POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. — One. More. Game.
Top-seeded Union College pieced together one of its best overall games of the season in registering a 92-80 victory on Monday over No. 4-ranked Indiana Wesleyan to advance to the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball Championship title game.
The Bulldogs now have won 32 games in a row, upping their overall record to 34-3. Union will face No. 2 Cornerstone (Michigan) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. eastern time.
Mike Martin scored the game’s first points, but Indiana Wesleyan reeled off the next seven to take a 7-2 lead with 18:14 to go in the half. In what has become commonplace for the Bulldogs, the team responded with a 17-4 run to seize a 19-11 advantage.
Gerrard Newby buried the first of his three 3-pointers of the night to give Union the eight-point lead at the 13:22 mark.
From that point on, Union never trailed again.
“Obviously, Indiana Wesleyan is a superb team,” said head coach Kevin Burton. “I thought we were really aggressive … and that our mentality was better than any technicality of the ballgame as far as execution and that sort of thing.”
A big key for the Bulldogs was their work on the glass. Union outrebounded Indiana Wesleyan 45-33 and hauled in 17 offensive boards. The Bulldogs tallied 13 second-chance points, while only allowing the Wildcats (29-8) to net seven.
“Our mentality helped us rebound the basketball,” noted Burton.
Once Union built the eight-point lead, the margin never dipped below six as it took a 46-35 lead into the half.
The Bulldogs came out of the locker room on fire, quickly stretching the lead to 52-35 thanks to a Martin 3-pointer and an old-fashioned, three-point play from Newby.
Still, Indiana Wesleyan did not wilt until the pressure. The Wildcats fought back with an 11-2 run, cutting the deficit to 54-46 following a Jacob Johnson basket with 14:27 to play.
Once again, Union found the answer it needed in an 11-0, which was capped by three consecutive 3-pointers – two from Sam Natt and one from Newby. The rally pushed the lead to 70-50 with 11:10 remaining.
“When we had a big lead and they, of course, made their run,” said Burton. “I really liked how aggressive we were offensively, looking for open looks. Their full-court defense kind of spaced out the defense for us to get some open looks.”
Indiana Wesleyan countered with a 10-0 run of its own to make it 70-60 with 7:21 to play. Union pushed the lead back up to 17, yet Indiana Wesleyan would not go away. The Wildcats rallied yet again and made it an 83-74 contest after a pair of Joel Okafor free throws with 1:46 to play.
The Bulldogs, though, put the clamps down and closed out the game by hitting 9-of-12 free throws down the stretch to lock up the 92-80 victory.
Martin scored a season-high 22 points to lead the Bulldogs. He scored 20 or more points one other time this season, netting 20 against Montreat on Jan. 28.
“He’s a high-energy guy,” Burton said of Martin. “Defensively, he’s been really good for us. In the last couple games, he’s been very, very effective for us defensively. … He’s a good finisher around the rim. He’s a good scorer. We’ve not needed him to score for us, but he certainly has that ability.”
Sherman followed with 20 points; the third time in the national tournament he has scored 20 or more in a game. Paul Stone added 17 points, and Newby posted his 17th double-double of the year with 14 points and 10 rebounds.
This marks the first time any Union team has ever advanced to a NAIA championship game in any sport. The men’s basketball team joins the women’s soccer program (2002) as the only ones to make the Fab Four.