Scorching the nets for 91 points, the Union basketball Wildcats bounced back in a huge way Tuesday at the 61st Annual St. Francis Borgia Pepsi Thanksgiving Tournament.
Union (1-1) posted a 91-68 victory over the O’Fallon Christian Eagles (0-1).
“The kids played hard,” Union Head Coach Chris Simmons said. “They shot the ball well. It was nice to win in a big way. They clawed early, but we were able to pull away. It was a big win for us.”
Simmons said that playing the night before might have given the Wildcats a slight edge because it erased the first-game jitters.
“With us playing earlier, and not playing as well, we got the jitters out,” Simmons said. “We were able to just come out and play and not worry about messing up. With a lot of young kids, I felt we were hesitant last night. There was a lot less hesitancy tonight.”
Union will play Miller Career Academy for third place Saturday afternoon at 3 p.m.
“It will be a tough game,” Simmons said. “We’ll play either Borgia, Miller Career or St. Clair and any of those teams will give us a good game.”
Eight different players scored for the Wildcats, but two did most of the damage.
Junior Nick Ziegler had the best game of his career, scoring 39 points. That’s just nine short of the tournament’s single-game scoring record, set by Orchard Farm’s Fred Semke in 1976.
That including going 19-19 from the free-throw line.
“It was a very unselfish night for him,” Simmons said. “He just took what they gave him and it ended up being a really good night for him. He also made a lot of good passes.”
Ziegler’s huge scoring night overshadowed another career effort from junior guard Tanner Bunch, who filled the hoop for 20 points. He hit six three-point baskets in the game.
“Tanner hit some big threes to open it up in the middle,” Simmons said.
Sophomore Dillon Breeden ended with nine points in the contest. Senior center Brian Borgmann scored eight points, but made a strong impression for his defense near the basket.
“Brian, defensively, was a monster in there,” Simmons said. “While he didn’t block a lot of shots, he changed them. We got beat off the dribble, but once they got inside, Brian forced them to change their shots. He was the brick wall behind our defense tonight.”
Junior Kevin Curran chipped also scored nine points. Junior Andrei Ciot netted three points while sophomore Nick Kretzler scored two and junior Austin Moss added one point.
“Ziegler may get a lot of the press, but it was a full team effort tonight,” said Simmons.
O’Fallon Christian was without its top scorer from last season, senior Deantrell Prince, but still found ways to keep up with the Wildcats for much of the contest.
The Eagles used strong outside shooting to make the game one of the highest scoring between two teams in some time.
Sophomore DT Christianson led Christian in scoring with 19 points.
Senior Evan Marcks netted 17 points while senior Jordan Norwine chipped in with 13 points.
Also hitting double digits was senior Jackson Rodgers with 11 points.
Senior Sam Henderson closed with eight points.
The second half turned into a free-throw shooting contest with many fouls. Christian lost Norwine and Henderson down the stretch, which hurt considering the lack of team depth for the night.
Overall, the game moved a quick pace with Christian taking a 21-20 lead at the end of the quarter on a three-point basket by Rodgers.
Union got the ball to Ziegler to take the lead, but Christianson hit a free throw to tie it at 22-22.
After Christianson put the Eagles back on top with a basket, Curran tied it and then hit a three-point shot to give Union the lead once again.
After a Norwine basket, Bunch hit a three and Ziegler followed with a two. Union extended the lead to 34-27 and never looked back.
Union led 45-31 at the half and 69-46 after three quarters.
The Wildcats held on through a long fourth quarter to pick up the win.
“Having a young crew like this, I was really pleased to see them get excited about doing something like they did,” Simmons said.