Opening the 61st Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Tournament against Borgia and Miller Career Academy isn’t the easiest road for any team, much less a St. Clair squad with little varsity experience.

Following a 63-21 loss to Borgia in their opener, the Bulldogs showed improvement Wednesday against Miller Career Academy in a 86-63 setback.

“More than anything else, we competed, and that’s what we talked about doing. I want to be a help and recover defensive team. Before the recover, we need to get the help part down and we’re getting better at that,” said St. Clair Head Coach Casey Korn. “Things we cannot simulate in practice, we got to see tonight, and the kids never backed down. I’d like to play against those guys every day in practice. We were more under control than we were the first night. It’s a good learning experience and I’m going to use all five of my timeouts every chance I get.”

St. Clair (0-2) plays O’Fallon Christian (0-2) in the Gold Division consolation game Saturday at 1:30 p.m.

“O’Fallon Christian has a couple of players who haven’t played yet. When they come back, they could be really tough,” Korn said. “One of the reasons we like this tournament is because we see teams we’ve never seen. It’s not always good to lose by 20 or 40, but my kids are still positive. They battle for me. I enjoy this group. They play hard.”

St. Clair’s offense got a boost from Reno Jones and Damon Arnold, who finished the game with 19 points and 17 points, respectively.

“If Damon is open, he can shoot. It’s a nice thing to have. We need to get him in rhythm a little better, meaning feet set and ready to shoot when he catches,” Korn said. “Reno has really worked on his game. He’s not going to see defensive pressure like that very much. Now he might see a box-and-one or be defended in other ways, but this was good for him because he doesn’t see that kind of defensive pressure in practice.”

Harley Love, Darrell Martin and Kyler Waldo each collected six points.

Kevin Cox scored five points. Keola Bursey and Wyatt Wachter both had two points.

Rashad Jordan scored 20 points to lead the Phoenix (1-1), who will play Union in the Gold third-place game Saturday at 3 p.m.

Marcel Lee finished the game with 19 points. Rashid Bivens scored 10 points.

“They hit some shots. They have some nice players,” Korn said. “We made some mistakes that we need to take away and learn from. Our kids do need to grow and learn a little on their own.”

Trailing 22-13 after one quarter, St. Clair opened the second period on a 10-0 run over the first 3 1/2 minutes to grab a 23-22 advantage.

“They were in some foul trouble, so we were able to shoot some free throws,” Korn said. “We weren’t getting pressed at that time. There were 10 minutes of real time where we were able to get the ball down the floor, get some open looks and free throws and set up our defense.”

In a blink of an eye, with their defensive pressure and hot shooting, the Phoenix responded with a 11-0 run in a span of 52 seconds to take the lead for good, 33-23.

Miller Career led 45-31 at halftime.

St. Clair was outscored 41-32 in the second half, including 26-15 in the third quarter. The Bulldogs had a 17-15 edge during the final eight minutes.