SUN PRAIRIE – Sun Prairie junior Marlon Ruffin dazzled onlookers Thursday night with his ability to get to the rim, hit outside jump shots and be steady from the free throw line in a critical Big Eight conference victory.
But while Ruffin scored a game-high 29 points, it was freshman Jalen Johnson who stole the show.
Playing just his third game back after a torn meniscus, Johnson scored 14 of his collegiate-high 22 points in the second half, including nine in final 2:32, to lead Sun Prairie to a 71-64 victory over first-place Janesville Craig.
“I had a feeling I could take over the game,” Johnson said. “I know I can take over big games like this and make plays when it counts.”
The 6-6, 185-pound Johnson was playing in his third straight game and only his fourth overall after injuring his knee early in the season. In front of Wisconsin associated head coach Lamont Paris, Johnson was active early with his jump shot, hitting a pair of 3-pointers and used his length to be active defensively around the rim.
In crunch time it was a different story. Not only did he use his athleticism and wing span at the top of a 1-3-1 zone to disrupt the Cougars’ offense over the final six minutes, Johnson delivered two fantastic dunks and went 5-for-8 from the free throw line to keep Craig at Bay.
“Free throws are huge because those can make or break a game,” Johnson said. “Those can win a game or lose a game, so they are huge for me.”
Admitting he’s still knocking off rust after missing six weeks with his injury, Johnson feels he’s close to getting back to full strength for the stretch run of the conference schedule.
“I feel like I’ve gotten more mature,” Johnson said of his growth since AAU. “I’ve got better at my game and have got in the gym a lot. I think I’ve taken a big step moving forward.”
Still looking for his first scholarship offer, Johnson and his family spoke at length with Paris following the game. Since visiting Wisconsin for a football game in the fall, Johnson and Paris have continued to build their relationship.
“Coach Paris and I probably have the closest relationship out of all my coaches,” Johnson said. “I’ve called him a few times. We have a pretty good relationship.”
Hearing from other schools like Iowa and Marquette, Johnson said he has work to do in all areas in order to get his first scholarship offer.
“I really need to get better at ball handling,” Johnson said. “Ball handling is important at the next level.”