Ripping out to a 22-8 third quarter, the Union basketball Wildcats picked up a home Four Rivers Conference win Friday night.
Union (2-6, 1-1) knocked off the St. James Tigers (4-3, 0-1), 65-54.
“That was a big win for us,” Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said. “Not only are they a conference opponent, but they’re going to be in the top three or four in our conference, without question. For us to come out and respond the way we did after getting down early the way we did was big. We had an 11-0 run to take the lead and then they came back and took it. In the second half, to come out with the run to start was big. It showed some maturity in getting good shots. I was very pleased with our response to their runs.”
Everything seemed to be going against Union in the first half. St. James not only had Union in foul trouble, but also managed to make it to the free-throw line on almost every Union foul.
However, the Tigers couldn’t take advantage. St. James was 5-12 from the free-throw line in the opening half and held a 27-23 lead at the intermission.
St. James had led 18-12 after one quarter, but couldn’t find that final spurt to knock down the Wildcats. Union’s ability to stick around in the second quarter paid huge dividends in the third.
“Our big thing in the first half was that we were dribbling a lot,” Simmons said. “When we dribble a lot, we’re not very good. In the second half, I thought our guys did a really good job moving the ball and reversing it, playing off the pass rather than trying to break their guy down one-on-one. They were able to get into the paint with guys collapsing and that gave our players wide-open looks. Our bigs had dump-offs for layups. It makes life easier when you play with the pass.”
The Wildcats came out of the locker room on fire, scoring the first eight points of the quarter. By the time the Tigers found the basket, Union made sure there wasn’t a run. The Wildcats again picked up play and led by 10 going to the fourth quarter.
Carrying the momentum, Union was able to hold off all St. James comeback attempts to win the league game.
Union was able to find the range from beyond the three-point arc, knocking down eight long-range shots.
Half of them were made by sophomore Peyton Burke. He hit three of them during the third quarter. Burke scored 18 points.
“He finally started going to the rim,” Simmons said. “I was frustrated with him early in the game because he shot two pull-up jumpers and nobody stopped him. I got on him and he started attacking the rim and got a couple of layups. When you see the ball go in, you knock down shots. He knocked down four threes but is was all because he got to the rim. He quit stopping himself tonight.”
Junior Trevor Kelly recorded three three-point baskets, all in the second quarter. He was Union’s leading scorer with 19 points for the game.
“I thought Trevor played really smart, unselfish basketball,” Simmons said. “He took his shots when he had them, especially in the second half.”
Jacob Towell, a junior, hit the opening shot of the third quarter from beyond the arc.
Inside, Union found a scorer with junior Kale Crawford scoring 14 points for the contest.
Towell and sophomore Caleb Mabe each scored five points. Senior Derek Foster and junior Blake Dickinson chipped in with two points apiece.
“I thought Kale gave us some great minutes,” Simmons said. “Caleb had some great minutes. Blake Dickinson only scored two, but he played some great minutes. Our bigs are starting to contribute. It all starts with passing the ball.”
Union went 7-12 from the free-throw line while also hitting 17 two-point shots.
St. James was paced by seniors Ivan Fuhring and Carter Keeney, who scored 13 points each.
Ryan Harlan, a senior, scored nine points. Junior Tyler Reeker netted eight points.
Five-point scorers were seniors Ty Uffmann and Bailey Terrill. Junior Tate Whitener added one point.
St. James was 7-19 from the free-throw line for the game, three three-point baskets and knocked down 18 two-point shots.
Some on Union’s team had their own theories though, crediting Simmons’ Christmas sweater as being the good luck charm.
“Everybody is saying it was the sweater,” Simmons said. “I don’t know if I can wear it every day. It’s hot. I did stay warm though. My mom got it for me. She may need to get me a couple more if they’re going to play this well. The kids want me to wear it every game, but it won’t happen though. It might get out of season. The kids played well tonight and I was proud of them.”