by Matt Bos-Media Coordinator
Point Lookout, Mo. – (Box Score) Facing arguably its toughest test so far, No. 1 Union (Ky.) proved why they are the top overall seed as they defeated No.1 and defending champion Indiana Wesleyan 92-80 in the first semifinal game played today at the 2017 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
Union earns the school’s first ever trip to a national championship game and advance with a 34-3 overall record. They have won 32 straight games and have not lost since Nov. 8 against Pikeville (Ky.), an NAIA Division I school.
Mike Martin scored a season-high 22 points, one of four Union players to score in double figures. Floor general Tyrone Sherman poured in 20 points, his third 20+ game at the championship. Paul Stone netted 17, all in the first half, and Gerrard Newby tallied his 17th double-double of the season with 14 points and 10 boards.
An early 14-2 run, finished off with a Sherman three-pointer, put Union in front for good, 16-9 at the 9:03 mark of the first half. The Bulldogs stayed in front by 8-12 points for the rest of the half, leading 46-35 at the break.
Indiana Wesleyan stayed within contact thanks in large part to senior Lane Mahurin, who led all players with 18 first-half points.
Union threatened to put the championship-tested Wildcats away early in the second, holding IWU scoreless for nearly four minutes as the lead went to 17 points, 52-35. The defending champions rallied, using an 11-2 run and following a three-pointer by Jacob Johnson and a three-point play by Mahurin, were back to within single digits.
Still a nine-point game, Union turned the momentum back in its favor with an 11-0 run, behind the three-point shooting of Sam Natt (2) and Newby (1) who knocked down three in a span of 40 seconds. Indiana Wesleyan made it a nine-point game during the final two minutes but would not get any closer.
“Obviously, Indiana Wesleyan is a superb team but I thought we were really aggressive, and that our mentality was better than any technicality of the ballgame as far as execution goes,” commented Union head coach Kevin Burton. ‘Our mentality helped us rebound the basketball. When we had a big lead and they, of course, made their run, I really liked how aggressive we were offensively, looking for open looks.”
Union shot 44% for the game, 36% from beyond the arc and controlled the glass 45-33.
Mahurin scored a game-high 23 points and finished his Indiana Wesleyan career third all-time in career scoring (2,288pts). The senior also moves up to eighth with 249 points at the championship. Bob Peters closed out his brilliant Wildcats’ career with 15 points and moved up to sixth all-time at IWU with 2,004 points and 10th at the championship with 239. The Wildcats were limited to just 3/13 (23%) from beyond the arc. They close the year with a 29-8 overall record.
Union will play for the Division II National Championship on Tuesday night at 6pm (CST) against No.1 Cornerstone (Mich.) or No.6 Bellevue (Neb.). The championship game will be aired on ESPN3.