Morris, Union Stun Defending Champion Clarion-Limestone in Quarterfinals
CLARION, Pa. (D9SPORTS) – The way Union senior guard Cole Morris saw it the Golden Knights were due to win a game against Clarion-Limestone.
After all, the Lions had beaten Union three time this year including a 64-39 win in the KSAC Title Game just a week ago.
But not this time.
On Friday night, in front of a packed house at Clarion High School, Union dethroned the defending District 9 Class A champions using a late 8-0 run to end the Lions’ season with a 66-59 win.
“They say if you end up playing a team enough times, you end up beating them once,” Morris said. “That’s what we did tonight.”
Morris said the win more than makes up for the loss to the Lions in the KSAC Championship game, if for no other reason it guarantees him at least three more games – Union qualifies for the PIAA playoffs with the victory meaning the Knights will play a semifinal D9 game, either a D9 title game or consolation game and at least one state playoff game.
“I would rather take three more games than the KSAC championship,” Morris said. “Survive and advance. That is what we got tonight.”
(Cole Morris – Photo by George Powers)
Friday night’s win almost took the same script as Union’s first two losses to C-L where the Golden Knights led more large portions of the game only to fall late to the Lions.
After leading 48-45 at the end of three quarters, Union found itself on the wrong side of a 56-55 score after C-L’s Dan Callen hit a layup with 2:14 to play.
But Gavin Hawk, who had been scoreless up that this point, drilled a 3-pointer from just in front of the Union bench off a pass by Morris with 1:57 to go to give the Golden Knights the lead for good.
That three started the 8-0 run for Union which also featured a dagger of a 3-pointer from the top of the right elbow by Lucas Bowser with 1:31 to go that pushed the lead to five points, 61-56.
“Coach Hep (Union coach Jeff Hepler) said just be patient and it will come,” Morris said. “And it came.”
Morris had a fantastic game recording a triple-double with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists.
“It’s the third time in 21 years (Union has made the state playoffs) I believe,” Morris said. “It’s very, very awesome for my senior year.”
Lucas Bowser and Hank Murphy also had strong games for Union with each recording a double-double.
Bowser had 18 points and 13 rebounds with Murphy adding 10 points and 13 boards.
“They kids played extremely hard,” Hepler said. “They played with a lot of heart and a lot of emotion.”
Any thought that this game was going to take the on the characteristics of the KSAC Championship game when Union couldn’t buy a shot was quickly dispelled when the Golden Knights grabbed an eight-point lead, 22-14, 10 minutes into the contest.
“I think I messed up (last week),” Hepler said. “I didn’t think we could run with C-L. So we were more patient than we usually were last Friday. It just doesn’t work. We can’t get into a rhythm. So, our whole game plan on offense was we are going to run on every possession and attack on every possession. If we get beat, we get beat. But we are going to do it the Knights way.”
Union built the early lead with timely shooting and solid zone defense, something the Golden Knights had rarely shown this season.
And the zone worked all night long confusing C-L and forcing the Lions to abandon their inside game while settling for a bunch of long-range jumpers. The end result was a 26 of 75 shooting performance.
“We never played a full game of zone like that ever,” Hepler said. “We kind of switched zones every two or three possessions, just to give them a different look.”
The zone as well as foul trouble played a key role in Union holding C-L’s leading scorer, Dan Callen, to just five points, his lowest output of the season and the first time all year the 1,000-point scoring junior was held to under 10 points.
But while Dan Callen was having an off game, his younger brother, Ian, was doing everything he could to keep the Lions season alive.
The freshman, playing well above his years, exploded for a team-high 20 points, including 10 in the third quarter alone keeping C-L close, and the Lions tied the game at 28 at halftime and trailed by just the three going to the fourth quarter.
With Union up by the three entering the fourth quarter, the teams traded baskets for a while before a quick 7-2 spurt by the Lions gave C-L the lead, 54-53, on a Noah Rankin 3-pointer with 4:49 to play. Rankin scored all seven points during the run and had nine of his 19 in the fourth quarter.
A Morris free throw with just over four minutes left tied the game at 54, and a Bowser charity shot with 3:41 to go put Union back ahead one.
Free throws played a crucial role in the game with Union going 14 of 23 from the line compared to C-L’s 3 of 8.
“We played really strong defense and just started to take it to the hole strong,” Morris said when asked how his team was able to shoot so many more free throws than C-L.
It was following the Bowser free throw that Dan Callen gave C-L the lead back one last time before Union took over thanks to the passing of Morris and the shooting of Hawk and Bowser.
“It’s tough to win four times against anybody,” Hepler said. “That was the message all week to the kids.”
Things not get any easier for the Golden Knights. They now face top-seeded and unbeaten Elk County Catholic in the semifinals at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Clarion University’s Tippin Gym.
UNION 66, CLARION-LIMESTONE 59
Score by Quarters
Union 16 12 20 18 – 66
C-L 10 18 17 14 – 59
UNION – 66
Sutton Varner 3 0-0 6, Gavin Hawk 1 2-2 5, Lucas Bowser 6 4-7 18, Hank Murphy 5 0-2 10, Cole Morris 7 6-10 25, Dana Louge 0 0-0 0, Kolby Montgomery 0 2-2 2, Jesse George 0 0-0 0. Totals 22 14-23 66.
CLARION-LIMESTONE – 59
Julian Laugand 0 0-0 0, Ian Callen 10 0-0 20, Taylor Smith 3 0-0 8, Noah Rankin 8 2-5 19, Dan Callen 2 1-2 5, Christian Smith 1 0-0 3, Devin Beers 2 0-1 4, Bailey Wrhen 0 0-0 0. Totals 26 3-8 59.
THREE-POINTERS – Union 8 (Morris 5, Bowser 2, Hawk). C-L 4 (T. Smith 2, C. Smith, Rankin).
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