UNION, NJ -- Isaiah Hill erupted for a career-high 29 points and Union Catholic used a big late run to finish off a huge statement victory when the Vikings pulled off a 53-44 upset victory over Hudson Catholic, the No. 10 ranked team in the state, at the Scholarship Fund for Inner City Children Festival on Sunday at Kean University.
This is the kind of victory that could very well vault the unranked Vikings, one of the state's biggest surprise teams this season, into the state's Top 20 rankings this week.
Hill, a junior guard, started out red-hot, hitting shots from all over the floor. He drained four of his six three point attempts in the game, made eight of 10 field goal attempts, and he scored 19 points in the first half to help UC forge a 27-27 tie with Hudson Catholic after two quarters.
In the second half, Hill made all four of his shots, including a game-sealing slam dunk, to put the finishing touches on UC's fourth straight victory as the Vikings improved to 5-1 on the season.
"It means a lot to me,'' said Hill, whose previous career-high of 20 points came last year. "I knew I had it me to have a game like this. I'm just thankful for my team for trusting in me.''
Hill said the Vikings came into the game with something to prove.
"We definitely walked in with a chip on our shoulders as we always do, but especially since our most recent loss in Jersey City (a 71-66 setback to Snyder on Dec. 23). "I think we surprised a lot of people and showed them that we mean business. We still have a lot to improve on, but we definitely are one of the best teams in Union Country, and w are our biggest opponents on any floor. We are starting to feel a rhythm for winning and trust in our abilities, and it is making us more dangerous than ever.''
UC Head Coach Dr. Jim Reagan Jr., was understandably ecstatic with how Hill and his whole team played.
"Isaiah was fantastic, he played lights out,'' said Coach Reagan. "I'm really proud of how Isaiah has developed his game and matured as a player. It was a great team victory as everyone contributed in different ways.''
Union Catholic, executing its spread offense with efficiency in the second half, took the lead for good in the game with a 12-7 showing in the third period to take a 39-34 lead into the final quarter. But Hudson Catholic, which lost 49-42 to No. 6 Bergen Catholic on Saturday night, battled back and cut the deficit to 43-42 with 1:39 to play. Just when it seemed Hudson Catholic (3-4 on the season) had all the momentum, the resilient Vikings answered back with a 10-2 run to close out the game.
Isaac Holmes converted a steal into a driving layup for a 45-42 lead with 1:13 to go, and then Hill followed with transition layup off a turnover for a five-point advantage.
After Hudson Catholic missed two 3-point attempts, Elijah Barlow hit a pair free throws to give UC a 49-42 lead with 27.3 seconds left. Hill's steal and jam came 16 seconds later in the Vikings' full court press, and then Barlow made two more free throws.
Barlow finished the game with 11 points and three assists and UC's Bradley Young and Matt Tracey grabbed a combined 13 rebounds for Union Catholic. UC's suffocating defense limited Hudson Catholic star Zion Cruz to just with eight points.
Coach Reagan was proud of how UC stuck to its game plan and executed its offense.
'"We were down 7-2 to start the game, but battled back, stuck to our plan and then started to take control in the third quarter,'' said Coach Reagan. "We were able to control the clock, rebound, defend well, and we got to the rim and executed our spread offense. And at the end of the game, we forced turnovers and a lot of guys made big plays for us to get this victory.''
UC will look to carry its momentum onto the court on Tuesday night when the Vikings host Plainfield at 7 p.m. in its first Union County Conference game of the season. UC will also host Union on Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and will play Seton Hall Prep this Saturday at the Dunn Center in Elizabeth at 6:00 p.m.