By Matt Bos, NAIA Media Coordinator
POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. – (Box Score) – No. 3 Cornerstone (Mich.) captured its third national title as they defeated No. 5 Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.) 66-45 in the championship game of the 2015 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship played tonight at the Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Mo.
This marks the third national title for the Golden Eagles’, also winning it 1999 and 2011, and they tie Bethel (Ind.) and Oregon Tech for the most national championships at the Division II Championship. Cornerstone now has 32 wins all-time at the championship, second only to Oregon Tech (33). They finish the season with a 33-5 record.
"Cutting down the nets never gets old,” said Cornerstone head coach Kim Elders. “I am so proud of these guys because they worked so hard all year and they believed they could be here to do this tonight."
Ben Lanning scored a game-high 24 points, 14 coming in the second half, and pulled down 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the championship. Freshman Kyle Steigenga, the championship’s most outstanding player, also recorded his third double-double with 14 points, all scored in the first half, and 11 boards.
“Unbelievable feeling, I’m so proud of my team and our coaches and our fans,” commented Cornerstone junior Ben Lanning. “It has been an awesome year and the first thing that came to my mind is that we are national champions!”
A three-pointer by Dakota Wesleyan guard Trae Bergh to start the game was the only lead the Tigers had the entire night. Cornerstone answered with 12 straight points, all by Lanning (8) and Steigenga (4), forcing DWU into a timeout.
Still a nine point lead at the 12-minute mark, Cornerstone went on a 13-4 run and opened up a 34-16 advantage following a three-pointer by Cory Cox with six minutes left. A driving lay-up by Travis Wells as the first half came to an end gave Cornerstone its largest lead of the night, 42-20.
Defensively, Cornerstone shut down DWU in the first half, limiting the Tigers to just 24% from the field while shooting 56% from the field themselves. Jalen Voss scored 15 of the Tigers 20 points in the opening half to keep DWU somewhat close.
A free throw by Joey Mitchell and consecutive baskets by Voss to start the second half put Dakota Wesleyan down 17 (42-25) as the Tigers’ defense buckled down, not allowing a Cornerstone field goal for nearly five minutes. Kris Menning drained a long three-pointer at the 10-minute mark and DWU was within 15 (45-30), the closest they had been since midway through the first half.
Cornerstone, however, would not let DWU get any closer as Lanning scored eight of his team’s next 10 points, putting the Golden Eagles’ back in front by 19, 55-36. An old-fashioned ‘and-one’ by Lanning put the game out of reach and Cornerstone’s defense refused to let DWU get anything going offensively, en route to the 66-45 win.
The Golden Eagles’ shot 43% for the game, 39% from the three-point arc. Travis Wells added nine points, five rebounds and three assists, joining teammates Steigenga and Lanning on the all-championship team.
Cornerstone’s defense was the story, limiting Dakota Wesleyan to season-low’s in field goal percentage (23%) and points (45). The 45 points is the lowest scored in a Division II Championship game and tied for fifth lowest score ever at the entire championship.
"Dakota Wesleyan was such a dynamic team and one that was so unconventional,” said Elders. “To hold them to a tournament record low says a lot about our guys paying attention to details."
Voss was the only Dakota Wesleyan player in double figures, scoring 20 points on 7-of-19 from the field. Bergh put in nine and Menning scored six as all three players were named to the all-championship team. Dakota Wesleyan finishes the year with a school record in wins at 32-5.
2015 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball All-Championship Team:
Dominez Burnett-Davenport (Mich.)
Bishop Robinson-Davenport (Mich.)
Trae Bergh-Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.)
Jalen Voss-Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.)
Kris Menning-Dakota Wesleyan (S.D.)
Ben Lanning-Cornerstone (Mich.)
Travis Wells-Cornerstone (Mich.)
DeForest Carter-Embry-Riddle (Fla.)
Cesar Pastrana-Embry-Riddle (Fla.)
Dalton Barnes-Embry-Riddle (Fla.)
2015 Championship Most Outstanding Player: Kyle Steigenga, Cornerstone
2015 Championship Hustle Award: Luke Bamberg, Dakota Wesleyan
Dr. James Naismith/Emil Liston Team Sportsmanship Award: Southern Oregon
Rawlings-NAIA Division II National Coach of the Year: Matt Wilber, Dakota Wesleyan
NABC/NAIA Division II Coach of the Year: Kim Elders, Cornerstone