The Union (Ky.) College Bulldogs (35-3) took home the National Championship trophy over the Cornerstone Golden Eagles (34-4) in a matchup of the top two teams in NAIA Division II with a 72-69 win in Point Lookout, MO.
NAIA Player of the Year candidate Kyle Steigenga finished with a game-high 30 points but the Bulldogs (20-0 in AAC Conference play) did their best to take the rest of the Golden Eagles out of their game.
Cornerstone was held to only three 3-pointers in the first half and trailed 36-35 at the half. The Golden Eagles spent too much time dribbling through the press instead of passing through it and fell into the trap of the Bulldogs press and zone defense. Steigenga had 13 points at the half, shooting 6-of-10 from the field, while Union’s Mike Martin led all players with 14 points at the half.
In the second half, the Bulldogs defense targeted senior Cory Cox, Cornerstone’s best outside threat, as they took the lead and played from ahead the rest of the way. Cornerstone shot just 4-of-14 to start the second half. The score stayed close throughout the first eight minutes, but the Bulldogs took off after Tournament MVP Mike Martin and Tournament Hustle Award winner Paul Stone were each charged with their 4th fouls. With the game tied 45-45, the Bulldogs went on a 16-5 run to take a 61-50 lead with just under eight minutes to play. Without Steigenga, the Golden Eagles wouldn’t have made the comeback bid. Playing like he deserves National Player of the Year honors, Steigenga kept the Golden Eagles in the hunt and kept the hopes of bringing the banner back to Grand Rapids and Mol Arena. But, it was the Bulldogs night. Cornerstone could only get back within three points in the final minutes, once at 66-63 on Cox’s only triple of the second half, and again on Michael McLaughlin’s triple at the buzzer.
While the Bulldogs will graduate all five senior starters, the Golden Eagles will return a team that only loses seniors Cox, McLaughlin, Eric Readman and Joey Blauwkamp. The returning core of Steigenga, Sam Vander Sluis, Jake Brubaker, Michael Bradshaw and Riley Costen should have coach Kim Elders right back in the tournament next season playing for national title number four.