After suffering losses by single digits in the first two games of its own boys basketball tournament, Union broke through with a victory Saturday in the seventh-place contest.
The seventh-seeded Wildcats (4-12) jumped to a 9-0 lead in the first 3 1/2 minutes of the game and never looked back in a 62-47 win over eighth-seeded Jefferson.
“It’s good to win. Anytime you play the 2:30 game with nobody in the stands, it’s a tough game. It feels like practice,” said Union Head Coach Christopher Simmons. “We were really patient with the ball. We went inside and didn’t settle for outside shots.”
Union opened the tournament with a 63-55 loss to second-seeded Lutheran South and then suffered a 50-47 setback to third-seeded Festus in the consolation semifinals, losing on a three-pointer at the buzzer.
Simmons hopes the Wildcats are turning the corner as the conference season heats up and the district tournament approaches.
“Against Lutheran South, we were down by two points with four minutes to go. Against Festus, they hit a buzzer beater. It would have been nice to win one of those,” Simmons said. “I feel like we’re right on the edge. We have some teams coming up that we can compete with.”
Union had four players score in double figures.
Nick Ziegler finished the game with 19 points and four rebounds. He was 8-9 from the free-throw line and nailed three three-pointers, two of which were buzzer beaters to end the second and third quarters.
“Those were big,” Simmons said. “Our guards are young. They’re getting better and better. We beat their press and got some easy layups out of it. We handled it well.”
Brandon Ford collected 19 points, seven rebounds, four blocks and two assists.
TJ Vitt registered 12 points, four rebounds and three assists.
Brian Borgmann added 10 points and three assists.
“Borgmann probably left eight points on the board against Festus, but he finished his chances today,” Simmons said.
Blake Hulsey scored two points. Dylan Small also played.
The Wildcats shot 67 percent from the field and were 13-17 from the free-throw line.
Mike Reid led Jefferson with 14 points. Darrick Brumley added 13 points.
Union held leads of 21-10 after one quarter and 34-23 at halftime.
Jefferson pulled to within 34-29 with 3:33 remaining in the third quarter, but got no closer.
Ziegler’s second buzzer beater to end the third quarter seemed to be the final nail in the coffin, pushing the Wildcats’ advantage to 42-33.
Union (0-2 in the Four Rivers Conference) played Whitfield Tuesday and visits New Haven Friday for a 6 p.m. JV start.
“Our two conference games have been against Pacific and St. James, the two best teams,” Simmons said. “We’re getting better, so I feel like we should be able to compete and have a chance in our remaining conference games.”