Union, Cornerstone Play for NAIA Title

by: Matt Boss, NAIA Division Two Media Coordinator

The top two teams in NAIA Division Two will meet for the 2017 Title tonight:

Union over Indiana Wesleyan

Facing arguably its toughest test so far, No. 1 Union (Ky.) proved why they are the top overall seed as they defeated No.1 and defending champion Indiana Wesleyan 92-80 in the first semifinal game played today at the 2017 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.

Union earns the school’s first ever trip to a national championship game and advance with a 34-3 overall record. They have won 32 straight games and have not lost since Nov. 8 against Pikeville (Ky.), an NAIA Division I school.

Mike Martin scored a season-high 22 points, one of four Union players to score in double figures. Floor general Tyrone Sherman poured in 20 points, his third 20+ game at the championship. Paul Stone netted 17, all in the first half, and Gerrard Newby tallied his 17th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 boards.

An early 14-2 run, finished off with a Sherman three-pointer, put Union in front for good, 16-9 at the 9:03 mark of the first half. The Bulldogs stayed in front by 8-12 points for the rest of the half, leading 46-35 at the break.

Indiana Wesleyan stayed within contact thanks in large part to senior Lane Mahurin, who led all players with 18 first-half points.

Union threatened to put the championship-tested Wildcats away early in the second, holding IWU scoreless for nearly four minutes as the lead went to 17 points, 52-35. The defending champions rallied, using an 11-2 run and following a three-pointer by Jacob Johnson and a three-point play by Mahurin, were back to within single digits.

Still a nine-point game, Union turned the momentum back in its favor with an 11-0 run, behind the three-point shooting of Sam Natt (2) and Newby (1) who knocked down three in a span of 40 seconds. Indiana Wesleyan made it a nine-point game during the final two minutes but would not get any closer.

“Obviously, Indiana Wesleyan is a superb team but I thought we were really aggressive, and that our mentality was better than any technicality of the ballgame as far as execution goes,” commented Union head coach Kevin Burton. ‘Our mentality helped us rebound the basketball. When we had a big lead and they, of course, made their run, I really liked how aggressive we were offensively, looking for open looks.”

Union shot 44% for the game, 36% from beyond the arc and controlled the glass 45-33.

Mahurin scored a game-high 23 points and finished his Indiana Wesleyan career third all-time in career scoring (2,288pts). The senior also moves up to eighth with 249 points at the championship. Bob Peters closed out his brilliant Wildcats’ career with 15 points and moved up to sixth all-time at IWU with 2,004 points and 10th at the championship with 239. The Wildcats were limited to just 3/13 (23%) from beyond the arc. They close the year with a 29-8 overall record.

Cornerstone Holds Off Bellevue

With the game on the line, Cornerstone relied on its dominant post game to deliver the Golden Eagles’ to a 69-57 win over No. 6 Bellevue (Neb.) in the second semifinal game played tonight at the 2017 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.

Cornerstone advances to its fourth title game, tied for most championship game appearances with Bethel (Ind.). The Golden Eagles’ won the title in 1999, 2011 and 2015 and will face No.1 overall seed Union (Ky.) in Tuesday night’s final game.

“It means everything…and especially for these guys,” said Cornerstone head coach Kim Elders on his team’s fourth trip to the finals. “They have worked so hard to get to this point and they deserve to be in this game.”

Golden Eagles’ big men Kyle Steigenga (19pts, 11 reb.) and Sam Vander Sluis (12pts, 13 reb.) both registered their third double-double of the championship. The talented pair combined to score 15 of their teams final 19 points to get past a valiant effort by the Bruins.

With Bellevue leading by three (34-31) following a three-pointer by Jerred Cook near the start of the second half, senior Cory Cox drained back-to-back three’s and scored off another jumper giving Cornerstone a 39-36 lead after the 8-2 run.

Later, at the 12-minute mark and the score tied at 47, a three-point play by Eric Readman put Cornerstone in front for good. From there, Steigenga and Vander Sluis went to work, carrying the Golden Eagles on offense while the entire team dominated on the defense end, holding Bellevue to just three field goals over the final 12 minutes.

Cornerstone closed the game with a 13-4 run and forced the Bruins to miss five of their final seven shot attempts. Defensively, the Golden Eagles’ limited Bellevue’s two tournament-leading 3pt shooters, Nick Hilton and Michael Cardenas, to a combined 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.

Bellevue was led by Hilton with 13 points and Jalen Hall scored 11. Jaffery Stillman chipped in 10 points and seven boards. The Bruins close the season with a 25-11 overall record.

Cornerstone grabbed the momentum early, running out to a 19-9 lead after eight minutes. A three-pointer by Stillman sparked a 13-0 Bellevue run that gave the Bruins their first advantage, 22-19. The game was tied four times over the final 7:30 of a first half that concluded with a 29-29 count.

With his 19-point, 11-rebound effort, Steigenga moves into a tie for 10th place (along with Bob Peters of Indiana Wesleyan) in scoring at the D-II Championship with 239 and eighth in rebounds with 100.

Union will play Cornerstone for the Division II National Championship on tonight at 6pm (CST) The championship game will be aired on ESPN3. The game can also be heard on 106.3 KRZK.