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Rocky Mountain (Mont.) Rolls to First NAIA National Championship, 77-61

March 25, 2009
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March 25, 2009

 

Kansas City, Mo. (Final Bracket) Rocky Mountain College (Mont.) jumped out to a 21-point halftime lead and never looked back on its way to a 77-61 victory over Columbia College (Mo.) in the championship game of the 2009 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship Tuesday at Municipal Auditorium.

 

Devin Uskoski posted 14 of his team-high 24 points in the first half in leading the Battlin’ Bears to the first NAIA national championship in any sport in school history. Uskoski also added a tournament-high 20 rebounds as he earned the Chuck Taylor Most Valuable Player Award for the tournament. Uskoski registered a double-double in all five Battlin’ Bears victories this past week. Rocky Mountain, which had never won an NAIA Tournament game in five appearances prior to this season, ends its year with an overall record of 28-9. The Battlin’ Bears won 10 of their final 11 games of 2008-09.

                         

Tuesday’s championship contest in front of a crowd of 3,377 marked the first time since tournament seeding began in 1957 that two unseeded teams played for the NAIA title. This marks the fourth time since the NAIA Division I Tournament moved back to Kansas City in 2002 that an unseeded team took home the championship, and the first since Texas Wesleyan University in 2006.

 

“It’s been quite an adventure for our program,” said Rocky Mountain head coach Bill Dreikosen. “I couldn’t be more proud of this group of (players). One thing I would say is having (Devin Uskoski) sitting beside me, this is a very special young man. I knew it would be a special year when he was a senior but I didn’t know it would be this special. It’s something I’ll remember for a lifetime.”

 

All five Rocky Mountain starters reached double figures in the scoring column in the effort. Nate Richardson, who received the Charles Stevenson Hustle Award following the game, posted 14 points, while Chase Sukut and James Bulluck each collected 11 points. Anthony Allen scored nine of his 10 points after halftime for the Battlin’ Bears. Richardson and Sukut both earned All-Tournament honors.

 

Rocky Mountain led for all but 14 seconds of the first half, when Columbia’s Brett Hoskins drilled a three-pointer at the 18:15 mark to give the Cougars a 3-2 lead. Richardson scored on the ensuing possession to spark a 9-0 run to put Rocky Mountain in front, 11-3. Later in the period, the Battlin’ Bears reeled off 13 straight points to boost its lead to 42-21 with just over two minutes left in the half. Richardson and Uskoski each scored five points during the spurt for Rocky Mountain.

 

The Battlin’ Bears built a 45-24 halftime lead thanks in part to shooting 59.3 percent from the field (16-of-27) in the period. Rocky Mountain also held a 22-11 edge on the boards in the first 20 minutes of play.

 

In the second half, Rocky Mountain added to its lead, and a 7-0 run helped the Battlin’ Bears grab their largest lead of the night, 62-33, with 12:49 remaining. Rocky Mountain cooled down in the final 20 minutes, shooting 41.1 percent from the field (12-of-29), but still finished the contest making 50 percent of its attempts from the floor (28-of-56). Both teams took care of the basketball as each committed just seven turnovers.

 

“It was an amazing ride, the ride of a lifetime and it just crashed,” said Columbia head coach Bob Burchard. “We will never be judged by one event. Our real success was becoming an amazing team and it took us to a place where Columbia College had never been before.”

 

Columbia ends its season with an overall record of 30-8. The Cougars won 17 of their final 19 games, and were making their first national championship appearance in school history. Christian Lewis netted a season-high 24 points to lead the way for Columbia. Brett Hoskins chipped in with 13 points as Greg Stegeman pulled down a team-best five rebounds. Terrell Turner dished out a game-high seven assists for the Cougars.

 

- NAIA -

 

GAME NOTES –

Rocky Mountain shot 59.3 percent from the field in the first half, the first team to shoot over 50 percent against Columbia for a half in the tournament …the halftime score was just the second time this tournament that Rocky Mountain led at the half, and the second time that Columbia trailed after 20 minutes…Christian Lewis scored 14 of Columbia’s 24 first-half points…Columbia got within 16 points by scoring the first five points of the second half, but Rocky Mountain answered with a 17-4 run…the final margin of victory was the largest in a championship final since Science & Arts (Okla.) def. Oklahoma Baptist 96-79 in 2002…Rocky Mountain’s Devin Uskoski recorded his fifth double-double of the tournament, his 29th of the season, and 70th of his career…Devin Uskoski’s 20 rebounds were the best single-game total of the tournament…Christian Lewis set a season-high with 24 points…for the third time this tournament, all five Rocky Mountain starters scored in double-figures…Rocky Mountain won its first NAIA national championship in any sport in school history…the victory was also the first Division I men’s basketball title for a school from the state of Montana, and a school from the Frontier Conference…Rocky Mountain is the sixth unseeded team to win the NAIA Championship since seeding began in 1957, and the third in the last five years…Columbia’s runner-up finish was the best showing for an American Midwest Conference school…attendance for the 2009 Buffalo Funds-NAIA Division I Men’s Basketball National Championship was 38,502, which was an increase of more than 2,400 fans from the 2008 event.