Eagles dethrone Marquette to win holiday tourney

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Columbia’s Jacob O’Connor takes a shot early in Saturday’s contest against Marquette. See more photos from the entire tournament by clicking here. (Corey Saathoff photo)

Alton Marquette was going for its fourth straight Columbia-Freeburg Holiday Tournament championship Saturday night, but the host Eagles had something else in mind.

Columbia fought tooth and nail with the Explorers all night in a defensive-minded contest, avenging a narrow loss in last year’s tourney final with a 39-35 win.

Jonah James nailed three clutch three-pointers in the fourth quarter to provide just enough offense for the Eagles at the end. He led Columbia with 13 points.

“I’m glad he got hot,” first-year Columbia head coach Brooks Demijan said after the game. “We know that he’s that capable of a shooter.”

Both teams were valuing each offensive possession, making several passes each time down the court in search of an open look. The Eagles led 9-8 after one quarter.

A three-pointer by Sam Horner put Columbia up 14-12 with 1:50 remaining in the first half, and that’s how the score remained at halftime.

It was much of the same in the third quarter, as the Eagles clung to a 20-16 edge entering the final period.

Jacob O’Connor found the rebound of a miss by Jackson Holmes under the rim and put it back for the score while being fouled early in the fourth quarter. He made the free throw to put Columbia up 23-18.

James then hit two straight three-pointers to put the Eagles up 29-18 with five minutes remaining. Another James three-pointer put Columbia up 36-27 at 2:25 of the fourth quarter.

A desperate Marquette squad increased its defensive intensity, forcing some Columbia turnovers to climb back into the game. The Explorers cut Columbia’s lead to just 36-33 with just under a minute to go.

Nic Horner hit a free throw shortly thereafter to give the Eagles some breathing room and Columbia held on for the win.

“We knew we had to value our possessions,” Demijan said. “I was proud of our guys for being patient and being able to battle through that adversity. We’re not used to being that patient.”

Holmes, who was named tourney MVP, finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds on the night. He also had five blocks and forced Marquette players to alter their shots all night.

Demijan gave plenty of credit to Marquette and its coaching staff for being a tough tourney opponent year-in and year-out.

“We want that identity as well,” Demijan said. “We want to be a defensive-minded team first. I think we found our identity this weekend and hopefully that continues into the new year.”

The Eagles (8-4) opened tourney play with a narrow 69-67 win over Lovejoy on Thursday, thanks in large part to a career high 37-point game from Holmes. Columbia also won 50-22 over Gibault on Thursday, outscoring the Hawks 30-7 in the second half. Holmes scored 16 points.

On Friday, the Eagles downed Civic Memorial, 54-34, to advance to the final. Jonah James led Columbia with 16 points, including four three-pointers.

Waterloo (3-10) lost three of four games in this year’s tourney. The Bulldogs fell 62-44 to Lovejoy on Saturday, with Ty Lenhardt leading the team in scoring with 16 points.

On Friday, Waterloo lost 42-31 to Marquette and 72-60 to Freeburg. The ‘Dogs trailed 10-0 to start the game against Freeburg before rallying to tie it 24-24 at halftime. Lenhardt scored 14 points in that game.

Waterloo opened tourney play with a 70-54 win over Valmeyer on Thursday. Jake Wade had 19 points and nine rebounds to lead the Bulldogs.

The Pirates (7-6) also went 1-3 in the tourney after downing Gibault (3-10) on Saturday, 58-54. Riley McCarthy led Valmeyer with 18 points. Philip Reinhardt added 12 points and eight rebounds.

Valmeyer lost 74-35 to Freeburg on Thursday in addition to the loss to Waterloo. On Friday, the Pirates lost 63-33 to Marquette.

Gibault dropped games to Lovejoy, 64-32, and Civic Memorial, 41-33, in addition to the losses to Columbia and Valmeyer.

See photos from this year’s tournament by clicking here.

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