UNION – Sometimes in basketball – no matter how much a team may excel during the first 16 minutes – having to hang on down the stretch comes into play.
Sometimes getting out to a big lead will do that to a team, not that it sets out to temporarily suffer a bit of a letdown.
After producing a 20-point halftime advantage, host Union took the gas off the pedal a bit. Visiting Ferris, to its credit, seized the opportunity and was able to make a game of it after it seemed like there would be no drama at all during the final 16 minutes.
After being down by 22 points once in the second quarter and one more time in the third, Ferris pulled to within seven in the fourth before Union rebounded to bounce away with a convincing 67-51 season-opening victory Saturday at the Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium.
Union (1-0) not only battled, but was sparked by the Battles, with senior James Battle pacing the Farmers with 16 points and sophomore Jason Battle adding 14. Also scoring in double digits for Union was senior Josh Croskey with 11 points.
All eight Union players that scored had at least two points at intermission, with the Farmers scoring 20 points in each of the first two quarters for a commanding 40-20 halftime edge.
Union led from start to finish.
“Being the first game our energy level was so high in the first half,” said Union fifth-year head coach Kevin Feeley.
A 15-12 game quickly turned into a 32-12 Union advantage following a game-high 17-0 run by the Farmers, who were a bit too quick and physical for their Hudson County counterpart.
A 12-1 run by the Bulldogs from Jersey City brought Ferris (1-1) to within 46-36 with just over a minute left in the third quarter. Ferris got even closer at 52-45 early in the fourth before Union answered with its first points of the period, a 6-0 run to get the lead back up to 13.
Four straight points by Ferris cut the lead to back down to nine, but after that Union scored again and then remained ahead by double-digits for the remainder of the contest.
The game’s leading scorer was Ferris junior guard Isiah Dasher, who finished with 23 points, scoring 10 in the first half and 13 in the second and also making the only Bulldog 3.
“In the first half we were more focused and played together,” said James Battle, who scored eight points in each half. “It was on our lack of effort that the game got close.”
A fan-thrilling reverse layup on the left side of the basket by Jason Battle concluded Union’s 17-0 run.
Another reverse layup late in the game by Union junior Ryan Dolce brought another jolt from the Saturday afternoon crowd.
James Battle also hit Union’s only 3-point field goal, netting it late in the first half to give the Farmers their second 20-point lead of 38-18.
“James played well and was the most aggressive guy we had,” Feeley said.
After an inside basket by Ferris senior Bakari Raeford made it a seven-point game in the fourth, Union came back with a short jumper and two free throws by Ithiel Horton and then a layup by Jason Battle.
“We have a small, scrappy team,” James Battle said. “We’re stronger on defense. We need to slow the pace on offense.”
Union began 5-1 last year with its only loss in that span an overtime setback to eventual Union County Conference-Mountain Division winner St. Mary’s of Elizabeth, which is Union’s next opponent.
The Farmers ultimately finished 13-13 after reaching the North 2, Group 4 quarterfinals.
It may be some time before Union finds its identity this season.
“For a lot of these kids this is their first time playing together,” Feeley said. “We’ll be going through some growing pains.”
In addition to its competitive Mountain Division contests against St. Mary’s, Union Catholic, Westfield and Scotch Plains – of course there are the annual conference-crossover matchups against Watchung Division foes Elizabeth, The Patrick School, Roselle Catholic, Linden and Plainfield, not to mention a home game against highly-ranked Pope John of Sparta and a game at 2014 Morris County Tournament champion Mount Olive. Union bested Mount Olive at home last year.
“Why not?,” Feeley said when asked of also having Pope John on his schedule this year. “I think we play 10 of the teams ranked in the (state’s) Top 20 this year.”
NOTES: Ferris, coached by John Bengen and which finished 9-15 a year ago, opened at home Friday with a 59-33 win over University Charter.
FERRIS (1-1) 08 12 21 10 – 51
UNION (1-0) 20 20 12 15 – 67
FERRIS BULLDOGS (51):
3-Isiah Dasher, junior, 6-1-8-23
42-Bakari Raeford, senior, 5-0-0-10
34-Denzel Santana, junior, 4-0-0-8
30-Alamir Huggins, senior, 2-0-0-4
1-Reggie White, senior, 1-0-0-2
0-Janari Farmer, junior, 2-0-0-4
Starters: Dasher, Huggins,
Raeford, Santana, White.
UNION FARMERS (67):
4-Ryan Dolce, junior, 3-0-2-8
1-James Battle, senior, 6-1-1-16
10-Jason Battle, sophomore, 6-0-2-14
13-Matthew Lajeunesse, senior, 1-0-3-5
14-Josh Croskey, senior, 5-0-1-11
12-Ithiel Horton, sophomore, 2-0-2-6
2-Corey Thelisme, junior, 1-0-1-3
21-Jabri Lateef, sophomore, 2-0-0-4
Starters: James Battle, Jason Battle,
Croskey, Lajeunesse, Thelisme.
JUDE CLASSIC AT RETTINO GYM ON JAN. 5
On Tuesday night Jan. 5 there will be a Union County doubleheader at Union that includes Linden and Roselle Catholic, last year’s two Union County Tournament finalists.
Westfield takes on Linden at 5:30 p.m., followed by Union hosting Roselle Catholic at 7 p.m. in the first St. Jude Classic.
“We put this together to give back for pediatric cancer research, which is a subject close to me,” Feeley said. “Coaches Darryl (Palmieri-Westfield), Phil (Colicchio-Linden) and Dave (Boff-RC) were more than happy to be a part of it.”
UNION BOYS’ BASKEBALL
(H) Dec. 19 Union 67, Ferris 51
Dec. 22 at St. Mary’s, Elizabeth, 4 p.m.
Dec. 27 Rahway Tournament, 7:30 p.m.
Dec. 29 Rahway Tournament, TBA
Jan. 2 Hoops for Troops at RC, TBA
Jan. 5 Roselle Catholic, 7 p.m.
Jan. 7 at Elizabeth, 4 p.m.
Jan. 9 Union Catholic, 1 p.m.
Jan. 12 at Scotch Plains, 4 p.m.
Jan. 13 American History, 4 p.m.
Jan. 17 Hillside at Kean, 11 a.m.
Jan. 19 Westfield, 4 p.m.
Jan. 21 Pope John, 5:30 p.m.
Jan. 23 at Mount Olive, 1 p.m.
Jan. 26 St. Mary’s, 4 p.m.
Jan. 30 Toms River Tournament
at Toms River North, TBA
Feb. 1 at Westfield, 4 p.m.
Feb. 5 Plainfield, 1 p.m.
Feb. 9 at Linden, 4 p.m.
Feb. 11 at Union Catholic, 4 p.m.
Feb. 22 Scotch Plains, 4 p.m.
Feb. 25 The Patrick School, 4 p.m.