Union's wait for its first ever national title is over as the No.1 Bulldogs defeated No. Cornerstone (Mich.) 72-69 in the 2017 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Championship game played tonight at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks. Union closes the season with a school record 35-3 mark, the most wins among NAIA Division schools, winning its 33rd straight game. Paul Stone (6'6''-F), the championship's most valuable player, led Union with 26 points and grabbed nine rebounds, despite playing most of the final 10 minutes with four fouls. Mike Martin (6'4''-F), who earned the championship hustle award, added 17 points and five boards while Gerrard Newby (6'5''-F) tallied a double-double with 12 points and 10 rebounds. With the score knotted at 45 at the 14-minute mark, the ninth and final tie of the game, Union went on a decisive 14-2 run. The Bulldogs clamped down defensively, holding Cornerstone without a field goal for over six minutes. Cory Cox (6'5''-F) knocked down a jumper to end the Golden Eagles' scoring drought, cutting the lead to 61-52. Cornerstone stayed within contact, thanks in large part to the play of junior Kyle Steigenga (6'6''-F), whose two free throws put his team down just six, 66-60 with three minutes left. A Cox three-pointer made it a one possession game (66-63) but Union answered with consecutive baskets by Lance Blakely (6'5''-F) and Martin, giving the Bulldogs a seven-point lead with just over a minute left. Cornerstone guard Michael McLaughlin (5'10''-PG) drained a long three from the top of the key to make the score 70-66 and Union failed to convert on a 1-and-1, giving the Golden Eagles' hope with under 20 seconds left. Cornerstone missed a three-pointer and Newby was fouled after controlling the rebound. The senior calmly made two free throws to put the game out of reach, despite a last-second three-pointer by McLaughlin that made the final margin three points. 'This was a very hard game to play…hard to find offensive things to go to, but we persevered,' said Union head coach Kevin Burton . 'Cornerstone is a class act. They have great talent and great coaching. For us to come up on top in a game against a team that's so storied in the NAIA, it's a pretty good accomplishment.' The top two overall seeds played a very tight first half with neither team able to pull away with an extended scoring run. Cornerstone shot nearly 50% over the first 20 minutes, going to its strong inside game coupled with the strong play-making of McLaughlin. Union relied on its three-point shooting, going 7/14 from beyond the arc, in a first half that ultimately ended with a 36-35 Bulldogs lead. Steigenga carried Cornerstone on both ends of the floor behind a 30-point, 10 rebound effort in a full 40-minutes of court time. It was his fourth double-double of the championship. Playmaking senior guard McLaughlin finished with 16 points and Cox, another senior, closed with 12 points. Sam Vander Sluis (6'9''-C) grabbed 14 rebounds, finishing the championship with 69 boards, second most all-time at the D-II Championship. Cornerstone shot 41% for the game and was limited to 33% over the final 20 minutes. They finish the season with a 34-4 overall record. 'It was a tough end to a great season,' said Cornerstone head coach Kim Elders . 'Union was so tough defensively and took us out of some things we do well. They also created pressure that transitioned into turnovers and points.'
NAIA D2 Most Outstanding Player: Paul Stone (6'6''-F) of Union NAIA D2 Championship Hustle Award:Mike Martin (6'4''-F) of Union NABC/NAIA D2 Coach of the Year:Kim Elders of Cornerstone NAIA D2 National Coach of the Year: Kevin Burton of Union
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