3.18.15: Cornerstone beat Dakota Wesleyan 66-45
GRAND RAPIDS, MI – (Mlive) - Cornerstone had to wait to celebrate an NAIA Division II basketball title Monday, even though the Golden Eagles were ready to burst by halftime.
An outstanding first half, which featured an 18-point lead within 10 minutes, set up a second half of defensive maintenance before Cornerstone could whoop it with a 66-45 victory against Dakota Wesleyan at Point Lookout, Mo.
Then the No. 3-seeded Golden Eagles did with an exclamation point in the program’s third national championship to finish 33-5.
Ben Lanning had 24 points and 10 rebounds freshman Kyle Steigenga – who was named the tournament MVP – had 14 points and 11 rebounds in a title game that was an unexpected rout.
No. 5 Dakota Wesleyan (32-5) came in as the top scoring team in NAIA at 87 points a game, but left with nearly just half that total and shot 23 percent (13 of 57), and just 19 percent beyond the arc (5 of 26).
Defense beat offense in this case. Cornerstone, which led the nation in 3-point defense percentage (29.4 percent) and was third in overall defense (39.4 percent), did a number on the Tigers, who had the lowest total in an NAIA title game.
It was quite a shock for Dakota Wesleyan, which rolled past WHAC co-champ Davenport in the semifinals on Monday 80-51.
It left coach Kim Elders in awe of what he witnessed.
“I’ve never seen it before and never been a part of anything like this,” he said. “This is the best defensive performance I’ve ever been apart of in my 22 years at Cornerstone.
“I am so proud. They deserve this and they worked so hard for this.”
The team gained the fundamentals of a difficult defense during a brief walk-through in the morning.
“We focused pretty hard on what they do,” said Lanning. “We switched a lot, we communicated and we got through screens. They kind of have an unorthodox offense but we didn’t have many breakdowns and played great defense and got the job done.”
The Golden Eagles had early leads of 12-3 and 27-12 as Steigenga and Lanning each had eight points within 11 minutes.
The first 20-point lead came on Justin Pepper’s jumper with 2:26 remaining before the Eagles left the court with a 42-20 lead at halftime.
Dakota Wesleyan’s Jalen Voss had 15 of his team’s 20 points and finished with 20 of their 45.
Cornerstone had just six points through 12 minutes of the second half, both on 3-pointers by Lanning. But defense was the emphasis as the Golden Eagles maintained a lead of at least 16 points throughout the remainder of the game.
Lanning’s first thought at the buzzer?
“We’re national champions and it really hadn’t hit me and I don’t know if it will hit be until we get back,” he said. “I can’t wait until we get back to Grand Rapids and see that (team) picture up in our little lounge there and the banner goes up in the gym. It’s just a surreal feeling right now.”
Lanning had 14 of the Golden Eagles 24 second-half points, including three 3-pointers.
The Golden Eagles also won national titles in 1999 and 2011.