UNION — The St. Jude Classic at Union High School has become a hallmark event to christen the boys’ basketball season over the years, and on Thursday afternoon, a packed house at the Louis J. Rettino Gymnasium was treated to a hometown thriller in the first game of the day’s tripleheader.
Four quarters was not enough for the young squads of both Union and Plainfield to settle it out in the season-opener, and neither was one overtime. But Union was ultimately able to pull ahead for good in the second overtime, as the Farmers flaunted tremendous depth to start off the season with a dramatic win, 73-72, over Plainfield Thursday.
Jakin Edmond score a team-high 16 points — including the go-ahead bucket that put Union ahead for good — to lead a deep Farmers scoring sheet, which saw nine different players register at least one field goal. Joining the junior Edmond in double-digit scoring were Malachi Johnson (12), Emeka Iloh (11 points, 13 rebounds), and Andrew Sanborn (10).
With the game knotted up at 71 apiece and 32 seconds remaining in the second overtime, Edmond buried a 17–footer from just right of the top of the key to put Union ahead, 73-71. That would prove to win the game, as five seconds later, Plainfield drew a foul but failed to convert on both shots, hitting only one when given the opportunity to tie at the line.
Plainfield, which was led by Jamarques Lawrence’s 21 points, was 40 seconds away from winning the game in regulation. The Cardinals rallied to erase a Union lead in the second half and were ahead, 59-57, when the Farmers’ Iloh gathered an offensive rebound and came up with a huge putback to tie the game at 59 apiece with 39 seconds remaining.
Union then got off to a hot start in the first overtime and built a lead as large as four (63-59) when Sanborn hit a three with 1:30 left. But pesky Plainfield once again clawed back and tied the game at 64 after a two from Tyejuan Taylor (14 total points). The Cardinals actually then forced a turnover on Union’s baseline inbounds immediately after Taylor’s bucket and Lawrence drew a foul going up with the ball, but missed both shots with 22 seconds remaining.
To open up the second overtime, Sanborn once again put Union ahead on a deft fade from the left corner to make it 66-64 with 3:34 left. But Plainfield would eventually regain the lead, 71-69, on a three from Jymirr Harvey (15 total points) with 1:32 remaining.
But 19 seconds later, Johnson hit two free throws to tie the game, 71-71, for Union. Edmond then severed that tie with his catch-and-shoot from just in front of the three-point line with 32 seconds left to make it 73-71.
Contrary to the back-and-forth overtime, this was a very low-scoring game early on. Union jumped out to a 19-13 lead at the end of the first quarter and remained ahead, 31-29, by halftime. Union’s two-point lead remained after three (43-41), but the Cardinals rallied to out-score the Farmers, 18-16, in the fourth to force the overtime.
Union, which out-rebounded Plainfield, 39-34, is a young team after graduating a large chunk from last year’s dependable squad, but has some size and quality guard play along with a sense of veteran leadership, especially with Sanborn coming off the bench.
After appearing in the quarterfinals of both the Union County Tournament and North 2, Group 4 state sectional tournament, Union will once again figure to be a contender in those tournaments, as well as in their Union County Conference-Mountain Division. Plainfield is just one of the challenging divisional opponents that Union will see this winter; the other being foes Union Catholic, Scotch Plains-Fanwood, and Westfield.
Plainfield is also a major contender that will be in Union’s way, in large part due to the Cardinals’ strong guard play.