by Matt Bos-Media Coordinator
Point Lookout, Mo. – (Box Score) With the game on the line, Cornerstone relied on its dominant post game to deliver the Golden Eagles’ to a 69-57 win over No. 6 Bellevue (Neb.) in the second semifinal game played tonight at the 2017 NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
Cornerstone advances to its fourth title game, tied for most championship game appearances with Bethel (Ind.). The Golden Eagles’ won the title in 1999, 2011 and 2015 and will face No.1 overall seed Union (Ky.) in Tuesday night’s final game.
“It means everything...and especially for these guys,” said Cornerstone head coach Kim Elders on his team’s fourth trip to the finals. “They have worked so hard to get to this point and they deserve to be in this game."
Golden Eagles’ big men Kyle Steigenga (19pts, 11 reb.) and Sam Vander Sluis (12pts, 13 reb.) both registered their third double-double of the championship. The talented pair combined to score 15 of their teams final 19 points to get past a valiant effort by the Bruins.
With Bellevue leading by three (34-31) following a three-pointer by Jerred Cook near the start of the second half, senior Cory Cox drained back-to-back three’s and scored off another jumper giving Cornerstone a 39-36 lead after the 8-2 run.
Later, at the 12-minute mark and the score tied at 47, a three-point play by Eric Readman put Cornerstone in front for good. From there, Steigenga and Vander Sluis went to work, carrying the Golden Eagles on offense while the entire team dominated on the defense end, holding Bellevue to just three field goals over the final 12 minutes.
Cornerstone closed the game with a 13-4 run and forced the Bruins to miss five of their final seven shot attempts. Defensively, the Golden Eagles’ limited Bellevue’s two tournament-leading 3pt shooters, Nick Hilton and Michael Cardenas, to a combined 1-for-7 from beyond the arc.
Bellevue was led by Hilton with 13 points and Jalen Hall scored 11. Jaffery Stillman chipped in 10 points and seven boards. The Bruins close the season with a 25-11 overall record.
Cornerstone grabbed the momentum early, running out to a 19-9 lead after eight minutes. A three-pointer by Stillman sparked a 13-0 Bellevue run that gave the Bruins their first advantage, 22-19. The game was tied four times over the final 7:30 of a first half that concluded with a 29-29 count.
With his 19-point, 11-rebound effort, Steigenga moves into a tie for 10th place (along with Bob Peters of Indiana Wesleyan) in scoring at the D-II Championship with 239 and eighth in rebounds with 100.
The championship game will begin at 6:02pm (CST) and will air on ESPN3.