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Defending Champ Union First to Punch Ticket to National Championship

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By Jay Stancil, Union (Ky.) Director of Strategic Sports Communications

BARBOURVILLE, Ky. – Jakobe Wharton netted a season-high 18 points, and it could not have come at a better time as he scored the game-winner to lift No. 13 Union College to a 70-68 Appalachian Athletic Conference win over visiting Bluefield (Va.) on Wednesday.

Union is now 18-7 overall and 15-3 in the AAC. The win secures the Bulldogs’ fifth consecutive AAC regular-season championship. Along with the title, Union receives an automatic berth to the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament, which is being held in Sioux Falls, S.D., on March 7-13.

While there were not very many lead changes or ties, the game was tight throughout as neither squad held more than an eight-point advantage.

Bluefield held the lead for the first eight minutes of the game before Union used a 10-0 to seize a 21-16 lead at the 8:34 mark. A Wharton 3-pointer pushed Union’s lead to 30-23 with 5:02 left, but Bluefield closed out the period on an 11-5 stretch to cut the margin to 35-34 at the half.

The Bulldogs appeared to be in control late in the game when Wharton sank his fifth 3-pointer of the night to make 66-58 with 1:58 remaining. An 8-2 Bluefield rally made it 68-66 Union with 22 seconds to go. With 15.2 on the clock, Jermiah Jenkins was fouled and connected on a pair of free throws to pull the Rams even at 68-all.

In the waning moments, Union worked the ball around for a good look, and Wharton pulled up from 17-feet out and swished the jumper for a 70-68 with 2.3 seconds remaining. Bluefield tried to get off a desperation 3-pointer, but it was off the mark as Union held on for the win.

Wharton hit 6-of-13 shots and was 5-for-9 from long range in netting his team-high 18 points. He also had five assists and four rebounds on the night. Lance Blakely was the only other Bulldog in double figures as he finished with 17.

Four Rams hit double figures with Jenkins’ 14 points leading the way. Ty’quon Reid had 12, while Jorge Concepcion III and Stanthony Nelms chipped in 11 and 10 points, respectively.

The AAC regular-season championship is the Bulldogs’ sixth overall. Under head coach Kevin Burton, Union has amassed a total of nine conference championships – five regular-season titles and four tournament crowns.

Union will be the No. 1 seed in the AAC Tournament, which gets underway on Feb. 22 in Kingsport, Tenn.

Up Next
Union will host another conference foe in Point (Ga.) on Saturday. Tipoff is set for 6 p.m.

Championship Information

NAIA DII Men's Basketball Championship
Sports Rules - Basketball DII (M)