Outscoring Union by a 19-2 margin in the second quarter, the Pacific basketball Indians cruised to a home win in the Four Rivers Conference opener for both teams Tuesday, 55-31.
“It was a good home win for us,” Pacific Head Coach John VanLeer said. “The kids played hard, but we’ve got to do a better job. We didn’t take very good care of the basketball tonight.”
Union Head Coach Chris Simmons thought his team had some success, but not nearly enough against the Indians.
“I thought we did some good things,” Simmons said. “They’re a really good game and defensively we really struggled. Hat’s off to them. They came out and they were the aggressor. We couldn’t get it done offensively.”
The game also was the home opener for Pacific (5-2, 1-0), which already has a second-place plaque from the St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Tournament and a win over Kickapoo at the Ozark Mountain Shootout last weekend.
VanLeer knows his team can play much better.
“We played OK,” VanLeer said. “It’s not as good as we’re capable of playing. I thought mentally some of the guys weren’t ready to go. We made a lot of mental mistakes on the offensive end and we weren’t able to execute because of one guy here or there wasn’t locked into our game plan. In the second half, we wanted to press and score and two times in a row, we had people not up pressing on the backs.”
After one quarter, the game was relatively close with Pacific leading 12-9.
“Early on, we did some good things defensively,” Simmons said. “Over time, on the offensive end with us having to dribble so much, it just wore us down over time. I thought our guys fought, but they were a lot better than us tonight.”
The second quarter belonged to the Indians and the 19-2 run gave Pacific a 29-11 lead at the intermission.
“I burned three timeouts trying to halt that,” Simmons said. “They got us spread out and their ball pressure and help is good. They’re long and they use their length well. John does a great job with his team. They got us good. I was proud of our guys for fighting.”
Pacific led 38-19 after three quarters.
“That was our defense,” VanLeer said. “We locked in. Mason Fleming was a big part of that off the bench. He was in good position on defense, which caused them to throw the ball out. They couldn’t drive on his side, because he was up the line and had a hand in the passing lane where they threw a couple out of bounds. He made some big shots. It was a great game for Mason with two big threes and defensively it was his best game of the year. He was a big lift off the bench.”
Union (1-6, 0-1) did one thing better than Pacific on the night. The Wildcats hit free throws, making seven of 11 in the game. Pacific was 2-9 from the stripe.
Unfortunately for Union, it also did something else at a faster rate than Pacific — turning the ball over. The Wildcats had several empty trips down the floor where they either had the ball stolen or threw it out of bounds.
“We’ve got some guards who can really pressure the basketball,” VanLeer said. “Trey (Boyer) and Matt (Strong) are very good on-the-ball defenders. Jordan (Cowsert) and Cam (VanLeer) are good defenders. We’ve got some guys who can really guard. Ryan Sauvage is a good defender off the bench.”
The Indians had balanced scoring with nine different players getting into the scoring column.
Senior Tom Hennessy led the way with 13 points. He scored 11 of those during the middle two quarters.
Cowsert, a junior who hit Pacific’s first six points on a pair of threes, ended with eight points.
Seven-point scorers were senior Cameron VanLeer and junior Fleming.
Strong, a senior, scored six points, all in the fourth quarter.
Senior Joey Casey scored five points and another senior, Sauvage, netted four.
Don’TA Harris, a freshman, hit a three-point shot at the end of the second quarter for his points.
Senior Trey Boyer added two points.
The Indians knocked down seven three-point baskets for the game.
“We’ve battled really hard on the road,” VanLeer said. “There was only one game where I can say we were out of it. I was disappointed with how we played in the Lafayette game. We got those things fixed, though. We went down to Kickapoo and got a really big win, holding them to 36 points. Our defense is pretty good. I think offensively we can get a lot better.”
For Union, three players scored eight points apiece.
Juniors Jacob Towell, Kale Crawford and Trevor Kelly shared the scoring leadership.
Sophomore Peyton Burke netted four points while sophomore Caleb Mabe scored two and senior Derek Foster added one point.
Union knocked down one three-point basket, a shot by Towell to open Union’s scoring in the first quarter.
Union was without 6-8 junior Wil Strubberg, who has been fighting to return from a back injury suffered against Pacific last year.
“Wil makes a big difference for us because of his size and he can score,” Simmons said. “He’s a first-team all-conference caliber player and if you don’t have him, it’s a loss. Kale, Caleb and Blake (Dickinson) fight in there, but 6-2 and 6-1. Hennessy and VanLeer are 6-4 and 6-5, athletic and long. It’s an uphill battle for them.”
Both teams return to FRC action Friday. Pacific travels to New Haven to take on the Shamrocks. Union returns home to host St. James in its second home game of the season. Junior varsity action at Union begins at 5:30 p.m. The Pacific-New Haven JV game starts at 6 p.m.