Ripping out to an 11-point run in the first quarter, the Miller Career Academy Phoenix ran past the Union Wildcats Saturday, 91-43.
The victory gave the Phoenix (2-2) third place in the 61st St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Boys Basketball Tournament Gold Division over the Wildcats (1-2).
Despite the loss, Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said the team learned some important lessons for later in the season.
“This game was great for us because we played a team with the speed and athleticism that we will not have to play against all year,” Simmons said. “We will, however, play against teams like Sullivan and St. James who will play hard and pressure the entire game. This helped us for those conference games.”
Union was trading baskets with Miller Career early in the game when the Phoenix ratcheted up its press.
That led to steals and easy baskets for the Phoenix while Union struggled to get the ball out of its own end.
The 11-point run helped the Phoenix move from an 8-6 advantage to a 21-6 lead. And Miller Career Academy didn’t stop there. The Phoenix led 30-14 after one quarter, 55-29 at the half and 83-35 after three quarters.
“As hard as it is to see with the scored being so lopsided, we got better Saturday,” Simmons said. “It was very physical which forced us to learn some toughness, mental and physical. It is disappointing to lose, especially that bad, but we learned a lot from that experience and it definitely made us better for the rest of the season.”
If the press defense didn’t finish off the Wildcats, Miller Career Academy’s three-point shooting completed the task. The Phoenix hit 11 three-point baskets in the game and that helped to propel the team to the big win.
Union’s troubles were magnified when junior guard Nick Ziegler, the team’s representative on the all-tournament team, picked up his third foul with 1:42 remaining in the first quarter. He did not return until the third quarter
Ziegler wasn’t the only player to get into serious early foul trouble.
The Phoenix continued to play its aggressive, physical defense and that led to senior Terrance Smith picking up his fourth foul with 4:27 left in the second quarter and senior forward Rashid Bivens following suit with 3:14 left in the half.
Both players fouled out in the third quarter. Bivens exited with 5:30 left in the quarter and Smith followed suit with 2:22 to play in the third quarter.
Senior guard Rashad Jordan led all scorers in the game with 29 points, including five three-point baskets. He added five assists, four steals and three rebounds.
Senior Marcel Lee netted 16 points while hitting three three-point baskets. He also had eight steals, five assists and one rebound.
Senior Rashad McClendon netted 16 points with two three-point baskets, three assists, two rebounds and two steals.
Junior Louis Clark also recorded double digits in points, scoring 10 in the game. He also had three rebounds.
Also for the Phoenix, Cedric Benbow recorded eight points with three rebounds, one assist and one steal.
Bivens and Smith each had four points. Dashan Haynes scored three points with three assists, two steals and a rebound. And Chris Partlow added one point.
Ziegler and senior center Brian Borgmann shared Union’s scoring lead with eight points apiece.
The Wildcats got balanced scoring with nine different players hitting baskets.
Sophomores Dillon Breeden and Nick Kretzler scored five points apiece.
Junior Andrei Ciot netted four points. Freshman Ethan Hughes added three points. Junior Tanner Bunch and senior Trey Fink scored two points apiece.
Overall, Simmons was pleased with the team’s performance in the tournament.
“I was really pleased with the tournament,” Simmons said. “We took a step up in the competition we played this first week compared to last years schedule and we learned a lot from it. We are really young and our youth showed itself a lot this week, but it also put some inexperienced kids in tough situations and allowed them to learn quickly and make them push through mistakes.”
Simmons said a number of players stepped up.
“Brian Borgmann played really well throughout the tournament and I think he is going to have a great year,” Simmons said. “Nick Ziegler also had a good all around tournament and represented out team on the all-tournament team. Kevin Curran really stepped up and had a good tournament as well.”
Simmons also praised the younger players on the team.
“Our younger kids really made some big steps forward which I felt was the most positive thing that came out of this tournament,” Simmons said. “Our jitters should be over with so now we can just go out and compete every day. We have 10 days off until our next game which I am very excited about because we will get ready before we get into conference play. Overall, I was pleased with the week and look forward to the rest of the season with this group of kids.”