by Matt Bos, NAIA Media Coordinator
Point Lookout, Mo.— (Box Score) Top-seed Cornerstone University is thankful for two halves as the Golden Eagles trailed by as many as 26 in the first 20 minutes but a 59-28 advantage in the closing half lifted them to an 89-83 win over Pacific Union (Calif.).
Cory Cox opened the scoring with a jumper and Cornerstone held a slim 12-10 lead after a Michael Bradshaw triple. The final 15+ minutes of the opening half was dominated by Pacific Union, who had to upset Cal Maritime in the conference tournament just to secure its first ever trip to the Division II Championship.
The Pioneers would go on to hit 63.3% of their shots, including 10/17 from behind the arc as they built a 55-30 lead at the break. Their largest lead came with just under a minute to play in the first half on the third triple from Ben Juzak to go up 55-29.
As the second half started, Cornerstone slowly chipped away at the lead as CU scored the first five points, forcing the Pioneers into an early timeout. That lead would be extended back to 22 with 16:53 to play but the remainder of the contest was all Golden Eagles.
CU used a 13-0 spurt to get within seven at 61-54, led by guard Michael McLaughlin, who tallied five of the last eight points during the run. After the Pioneers upped the lead back to 10 with 9:49 to play, Cornerstone again went on a big run, this time a 14-0, finished off by 10 straight points from Cory Cox to lead 74-68. The closest PUC would get down the stretch was three as CU clinched it with free-throws to avoid the upset.
Cornerstone shot 64% over the final 20 minutes, 56% for the game, and had a tremendous 27-5 advantage at the free throw line. Cox poured in game-high 26 points, going 5-for-10 from beyond the arc. Kyle Steigenga registered his 18th double-double of the season, 22 points and 11 rebounds, and McLaughlin netted 15.
“We were not the aggressors in the first half as we played on our heels and they played on their toes,” commented head coach Kim Elders. “We talked about that at halftime and made some changes mentally.”
Coach Elders and his squad picked up a championship leading 34th win.
After shooting 64% in the first half, Pacific Union cooled off to 49% for the game. Noel Briones led the Pioneers with 13 points and Jazuk scored 11. They close the year with an 18-7 record.
Cornerstone advances to the second round where they will face either Saint Francis (Ind.) or Oregon Tech on Friday at 10:15am. For more information on the national championship, click here. To watch the live video stream, go to NAIANetwork.com.