The Sun Prairie East boys basketball team’s road trip to La Follette on Saturday, Jan. 28 had all the makings of an upset. The visiting Cardinals entered the matchup with just two Big Eight conference wins on their resume, but got a perfect storm of three point shooting success and sturdy defense to put a scare into the Lancers.
Despite nailing 13 triples, four of which came from sophomore Max Raimer as he scored a team-high 17 points, the upset wasn’t meant to be. La Follette hit its free throws in the clutch to hold on for a 72-70 victory.
“Considering how this season has gone for us, I thought we did a really good job of playing with confidence tonight and really hanging in there,” Sun Prairie East head coach Steve Maselter said. “I was really happy with that. We faced some adversity at times in this game against an experienced La Follette team. We dealt with it well.”
The primary adversity coach Maselter hoped to avoid this time around was turnovers. In Sun Prairie East’s first matchup with La Follette at home back in early December, the Cardinals committed over 20 turnovers in an 85-71 loss. The plan this time around obviously included better ball control, but also an increased focus on controlling the paint on both sides of the ball.
La Follette freshman Thian Riak showed this goal would be no easy task. The 6-foot-4 big man made his presence known early, scoring seven of the Lancers’ first nine points thanks to his superior size. A pair of three pointers to follow that led La Follette out to a quick 15-9 lead.
Sun Prairie East’s best answer was to start hoisting shots from deep, as well. The Cardinals got triples from sophomore Trystan Fry, junior Gavin Van Wie, and junior Theo Schofield. This helped keep things close as La Follette junior sharpshooter Will Arkin got hot, nailing the first two of his eventual four triples. La Follette couldn’t quite pull away, leading 25-20.
“That’s just how we play,” Maselter said. “We want to attack space, attack the paint, and have shooters be ready to fire. Our first thought is to shoot the ball. That’s what we work on in practice, getting more shots up.”
Glusick and Raimer essentially carried the Cardinals from that point into the halftime break. The pair of sophomores combined for 13 points, including three three point shots. The Cardinals finished the half on a 10-2 run, punctuated by one of Raimer’s triples, and only trailed 38-36.
Sun Prairie East turned its deep shooting success up all the way in the second half. The Cardinals’ first four field goals came via the triple, thanks to a pair from Glusick and one from Van Wie and Fry each. A subsequent and-one bucket from Schofield gave Sun Prairie East its first lead since the start of the game, 52-51.
Three lead changes later, a La Follette three put the Lancers ahead 60-56 with about seven minutes to play. Again, Raimer would step up when he was needed most. He scored eight of Sun Prairie’s next 13 points, knocking down two more threes as Sun Prairie East took hold of the game, 70-64, with three minutes to go.
The Cardinals would not score again. La Follette got another three from Arkin to narrow the game to 70-67. The Lancers turned up their defensive effort, forcing key misses from Sun Prairie East down the stretch. Fouls piled up and La Follette would hit five of their free throw attempts, holding on in a thriller for a 72-70 victory. Despite the loss, Maselter still liked what he saw from his youthful squad.
“I’m really impressed with how the guys have bought into what we’re trying to do as a team,” Maselter said. “The more experience they gain with our primary principles, the more confidence they play with.”
The tight loss drops Sun Prairie East to a 3-13 overall record and a 2-12 mark in Big Eight conference play. The Cardinals will look to parlay this solid performance into good results in a pair of conference games this week. Sun Prairie East will host Janesville Parker on Tuesday, Jan. 31 and travel to Beloit Memorial on Friday, Feb. 3. The Cardinals only lost to Parker by nine back in early December and just took a 74-63 loss to Beloit Memorial last week.