AUBURN — One week after a disappointing performance against the Curtis Vikings, the Union boys basketball team asserted itself big time to earn a big prize.
Big offensive games from Tanner Nelson and Jordan Chatman, some terrific team defense, and a strong closing statement lifted Union to a 57-48 win over Curtis of University Place on Friday in a Class 4A regional playoff game at Auburn High School.
The victory means the Titans will be one of eight Class 4A teams at the Tacoma Dome next week for the state tournament.
“One of the best feelings of my life,” Union post Trent Cowan said. “Just hugging everybody and celebrating with everybody. It’s satisfaction. It’s relief. It’s excitement about going to the dome. It’s amazing.”
Cowan had a hand in controlling Darius Johnson-Wilson, the Vikings’ powerful post. The 6-foot-6 Johnson-Wilson finished with 16 points, but worked hard for those.
At the same time, the Titans made it tough on the Vikings guards who were a big part of Curtis’ 59-51 win against Union in the district tournament last week.
“The last time we played them, our pressure wasn’t what we typically do,” Union coach Maco Hamilton said.
In the first meeting, Hamilton said his players were too aware of retreating to defend against the Curtis big men. This time, Union’s full-court press forced the Vikings into turnovers, or into running their structured half-court offense with the shot clock running down.
That was particularly important late in the game, when Curtis missed its last seven shots.
Union closed the game on a 13-2 run, pulling away from a 45-45 tie in the last five minutes of the fourth quarter.
A couple of layups by Cowan off feeds from Brian Cairns and Chatman sandwiched an end-to-end layup by Nelson to take the lead from two points with less than three minutes to play to eight points with less than a minute left.
“We really focused this week on how to get more team offense flowing, getting better ball movement, being stronger with the ball,” Nelson said.
Nelson scored 12 of Union’s 15 points in the second quarter, helping the Titans to a two-point halftime lead. Chatman had 10 of his points in the third quarter, when Union led by as many as seven points.
Nelson finished with 23 points, and Chatman 21.
“(Nelson) was attacking all night and got the line a bunch,” Hamilton said. “He and Jordan (Chatman) were the best two players on the court tonight, which they should be.”
In addition to his points, Chatman had seven rebounds and was active in the press all game.
“We just made a couple of adjustments, played a lot harder and believed in ourselves,” Chatman said, comparing this win with last week’s loss to these Vikings.
“It feels amazing,” Chatman said. “One of my goals for my high school career was to get to the Dome and we finally did it.”
Free throws were a big part of the story. By attacking the basket, the Titans got 25 free throws and converted 20 of them — including 10 of 12 in the fourth quarter. Nelson was 9 for 11 from the stripe.
Tyler Copp and Seaver Whalen each made four steals, and the Union defense had 14 takeaways and forced 18 Curtis turnovers.
The Titans also had a slight rebounding edge, and held the larger Vikings to seven second-chance points.
And the result was a great second-chance experience for the Titans one that earns them the chance to play one more week — and on the biggest stage.
UNION 58, CURTIS 47
UNION (18-7) — Dionte Ceaser 0, Kyle Mercer 0, Tyler Copp 2, Dominique Ceaser 0, Seaver Whalen 3, Tanner Nelson 23, Jordan Chatman 21, Trent Cowan 7, Kaben Humphrey-Butler 0, Gabe Rego 0, Micah Merfeld 0, Brian Cairns 2. Totals 18 (2) 20-25 58.
CURTIS (20-6) — Jaurence Chisolm 9, Nate Cottrill 0, Vinnie Gallo 7, Cameron Howell 7, Darius Johnson-Wilson 16, Dominique Jordan 2, Dominique Robinson 3, Rodrick Smith 3. Totals 17 (3) 10-15 47.
Union 10 15 18 14–57
Curtis 6 17 15 10–48