Take a glass, fill it halfway and then give it some serious thought relating to the 2012-13 Sun Prairie High School boys basketball season.
Half empty: The Cardinals had their season terminated by Middleton, 75-64, in a WIAA Division 1 regional championship game at Sun Prairie last Saturday night.
Half full: Sun Prairie, for the first time since joining the Big Eight Conference during the 1977-78 season, won a piece of the league title and in doing so also posted its best record ever in the Big Eight at 16-2 and best ever overall record at 20-4.
Middleton (14-10) made its third encounter with Sun Prairie a charming one after having lost to Sun Prairie, 72-70, in overtime on the same floor just 11 days earlier.
Nick Fuller's falling down, long distance rainbow shot hit nothing but net to tie the game and extend it into overtime where Sun Prairie avoided losing a grip on a first-place tie with Madison Memorial. Fuller had another outstanding game in the regional title game, scoring 34 points to end his four-year career at SPHS with 1,941 points. But his effort couldn't push the Cardinals forward to the sectional finals.
"They're tough and a hard match-up for us," said Sun Prairie head coach Jeff Boos of Middleton. "We had a couple of opportunities that I thought got away from us a little bit and right at half we were up four and then we lost that momentum and Middleton was up by three.
"We just never really got going after the first quarter when we got an early lead. But then we really never put anything together and it was an uphill battle. Then we got behind and then we had the foul game and we just weren't able to find an answer."
Boos said nerves also played a part during crucial times.
"We panicked a little bit in a couple of possessions when that stretch got to be six or seven," he said. "I thought that it was a matter of everybody doing too much, too quick and not be patient enough with the ball and taking care of it. Middleton played really good team ball toward the end, and the play of (Luke) Schafer really stood out to me. He hit some good shots from the perimeter and really came on strong."
Sun Prairie started the game strong as senior Donnel Thompson's five points enabled Sun Prairie to grab an early lead and go up 9-2. But from that point on, Middleton outscored Sun Prairie, 16-6, to grab an 18-15 first quarter lead.
Middleton, who had 123 3-pointers in the previous meeting between the two teams, had three in the first quarter to overcome Sun Prairie.
Fuller, who had 12 first half points, had eight in the second quarter. After Fuller completed a three-point play, Craig Evans scored inside and Nick Noskowiak, who finished with 14 points, drilled a 3-pointer to give Sun Prairie a 30-26 lead.
But Middleton finished the second quarter with a 7-0 run to take a 33-30 lead into halftime.
Both teams shot better than 50 percent in the first half-- Middleton connecting on 12 of 21 shots and Sun Prairie good on 13 of 24 shots.
Middelton extended its lead to 50-43 at the end of the third quarter as both teams cooled off with Sun Prairie good on 3 of 8 shots and Middleton sinking 4 of 10 attempts.
Sun Prairie's first shot attempt in the final quarter didn't come until three minutes had expired. Middleton, meanwhile, built its lead to 58-49 with 2-1/2 minutes remaining. Fuller's three-point play helped the Cards cut the advantage to 58-52 moments later. But Middleton sank 8 of 13 free throw tries, including two technical fouls, before Sun Prairie scored again on Fuller's second dunk of the game with 35.5 seconds remaining that brought the Cards within five points, 69-64.
Those, however, were the last points scored by Sun Prairie as Middleton went to the free throw line eight times and converted six of those attempts to seal the win over the No. 1 seeded Cardinals.
Middleton had three players in double figures led by junior Luke Schafer, who had 21 points.
"I just felt like giving up 75 points, that's a lot of points to be giving up in a high school basketball game," said Boos. "We had a tough time defending them and keeping them in front of us or doing what we needed to do. We just didn't have the match-ups."
Added Boos, after being reminded of the historic season just completed, "The hard thing about it is it's suddenly over. We had hopes of playing a little bit further and playing better basketball at this time.
"But tonight was just not our night. You take your had off and give credit to your opponent."
Cards conquer Coons
Come tournament time anything can happen, and no team is safe regardless of what it did in the regular season. The Sun Prairie boys basketball team found that out last Friday night, when it held on to beat Oconomowoc 51-46.
The win was a monumental one for the Cardinals, as it is the first time in Sun Prairie Big Eight history that it has won 20 games in one season. Still, the Raccoons gave Sun Prairie all it could handle in taking the game down to the waning moments.
Boos acknowledged the Cardinals prior experience in close games as a key in helping his squad pull off the win.
“We have Fuller and we have Noskowiak, but we still have a lot of young guys,” Boos said. “Not a lot of guys have been in this situation before. I think we’ve been in a lot of games where it’s been nip and tuck and last second situations, and it paid off tonight. I think we showed a little bit of discipline when we needed to.”
The nine point advantage the Cardinals held after one period was thanks in large part to the play of Fuller, who tallied 10 points in the first quarter alone.
Sun Prairie continued to lead by a comfortable margin throughout much of the second quarter, holding as much as a 13 point advantage, until the offense hit a wall and the game got much closer.
“Obviously, they wanted to come out and play us. We weren’t in a very good rhythm probably from about the three minute mark in the second quarter probably throughout the entire third quarter. We kind of went stagnant on the offensive side,” Boos said. “The one thing I didn’t like about it was that it was a one possession game, so it’s a strategic play you go with.”
Heading into halftime, Sun Prairie was still up by six points, and with two minutes, 9 seconds left in the third quarter the Cardinals held a nine point lead.
But after several defensive stands by Oconomowoc and back-to-back layups by the Raccoons’ Mitch Pauers, the Cardinals found themselves up only three, 47-44 with 6:17 left in the game. That’s when Boos decided to make a drastic decision coming out of a timeout by holding the ball and waiting for Oconomowoc to make the first move. The Raccoons waited, and waited, and waited some more until nearly 5 minutes had ticked off the clock to finally attack defensively.
“I thought he might play it right down to the minute and go to the foul game. I don’t know if I’ve ever been in a situation where I’ve seen four minutes and 59 seconds burn off the clock,” Boos said.
Noskowiak sank three free-throws over the final minute and a half of the game to give Sun Prairie the five-point win.
Fuller’s 21 points kept the Cardinals ahead for much of the game, and the three crucial points of Noskowiak’s game-total eight made sure Sun Prairie stayed ahead for good to live to see another post-season game.
“There’s always someone that has to rise up. Someone’s going to help you over the hump. At least they have 22 games behind them to have some confidence and feel like they can do that, and I think that happened tonight,” Boos said.
Note: Sports Editor Karl Raymond wrote the Middleton story and Dan Corcoran wrote the Oconomowoc story.