The Columbia Eagles won their second tournament title already this season, taking the 58th annual Freeburg-Columbia Holiday Tournament championship against Piasa Southwestern in impressive fashion Tuesday night, 68-51 at Freeburg High School.
Columbia began its season with a tip-off tourney championship at Wesclin following a thrilling win over Nashville, but entered the holidays on the heels of two tough Cahokia Conference losses.
With wins against Triad, Lovejoy, Marquette and now Piasa, the 9-3 Eagles now have a building block for the conference grind that remains.
“We’re a much different team than two weeks ago,” Columbia head coach Mark Sandstrom said of his young bunch. “We’re more composed… we’re just more poised and we’re making fewer mistakes.”
Much like the prior tournament games, the Eagles leaned heavily on the offensive spark and smooth shooting of the Holmes brothers — junior Jonathan and freshman Jordan — to soar to victory.
Jordan Holmes was calm under pressure handling the ball and led the team in scoring Tuesday with 20 points — including four three-pointers.
Sandstrom said Piasa threw an unusual defensive look at his team in an attempt to disrupt the guards — namely Jordan.
“They threw a triangle-and-two at us, but I don’t think they knew who Jordan Holmes was,” Sandstrom told the Republic-Times. “He’s a big-time player, and I’m just glad he’s on my team.”
Jonathan Holmes was just as good, scoring 17 points and taking the honor of tournament MVP home with him at the end of the night.
Sandstrom affectionately described the elder Holmes brother as a “gym rat” who has worked tirelessly to improve his basketball skills after playing junior varsity last season.
“He puts in the extra time, puts in the extra grind,” Sandstrom said. “We’re very happy with his game.”
Tuesday’s title contest was fast-paced at the start with back-and-forth action as both teams tried to gain momentum. Korbin Farmer, who joined Jonathan Holmes on the all-tournament team, worked hard on both ends of the floor and scored eight points in the first quarter as the Eagles led 19-15.
The second quarter featured more of the same, with Piasa staying within striking distance and the Eagles unable to pull away. With Columbia up just two points at 26-24 in the final minute of the first half, Farmer made a circus shot under the basket while being fouled. He made the ensuing free throw, and the Eagles led 29-25 at halftime.
Sandstrom said his team expressed displeasure in its defensive play in the first half despite the lead, and came out more determined in the second half.
“They were disappointed in their half-court defense,” the coach said. “That shows you the character of this team.”
That determination showed right from the start of the third quarter, as the Eagles went on a 10-0 run aided by the three-point shooting of Jordan Holmes, dominance on the boards and forced turnovers. Jordan Holmes hit three from behind the arc in the quarter, and his brother scored seven points in the frame. Following a scramble for the ball at the end of the quarter that resulted in a Piasa player pushing Columbia’s Zach Mathews, a technical foul was called against Piasa and Jonathan Holmes hit both free throws to make it 51-35 heading into the fourth quarter.
Columbia mostly played keep away and leaned on its defense from there, and the Eagles hit their free throws (19-of-24 for the game) to seal the victory.
Farmer finished with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Also joining Jonathan Holmes and Farmer on the all-tourney team was Ryan Gudeman.
The Eagles will next face conference foe Carlyle at home on Jan. 6.
Bulldogs end tourney with third win
Waterloo closed out Freeburg tourney play with another strong effort, defeating Sparta 47-33 in the fifth place game. Following their opening day loss to defending tourney champ Marquette on Friday, the ‘Dogs rattled off three straight wins.
The orange-and-black Bulldogs came out strong on Tuesday, building up an 18-8 lead over the Sparta Bulldogs after one quarter. Coach CJ Cruser’s team kept up the pressure and never looked back from there.
Sam Dodd led all Waterloo scorers with nine points, followed by Lance Mueller with eight and Ryan Aycock with seven.
Senior Rick Wiegand was named to the all-tournament team for his strong overall performance in Freeburg.
Valmeyer tops Lebanon
The Valmeyer Pirates looked more like the team that compiled a few early wins prior to the tourney, as their top two scorers returned and provided an offensive punch in a 54-49 win over Lebanon on Tuesday.
Ryan Unterseh led the Pirates with 16 points and Zach Williams added 15 in the win. Valmeyer trailed by eight points after three quarters, but outscored the Greyhounds 26-13 in the fourth quarter to take the win.
Eric Smith added 11 points for the Pirates.
For high-quality photos from the Freeburg tournament that are available for purchase as prints or digital downloads, click here.