The Cornerstone Golden Eagles defeated the UM-Dearborn Wolves 79-70 in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference Tournament semi-finals on Saturday afternoon, led by Michael Bradshaw’s six three-pointers.
It wasn’t a big surprise that the Golden Eagles team got out to big lead midway through the first half of their semi-final matchup with the Wolves, they’ve got Player of the Year Kyle Steigenga and the Coach of the Year Kim Elders on their side.
But the Dearborn squad wasn’t going away without a fight. With a crowded corner of the bleachers wearing the maize and blue of the away team, the Wolves fought back with an array of inside-outside play. Led by Jason Penn and Cody Kegley, the Wolves started the comeback as Cornerstone’s hot hand went dead cold, missing eight straight shots, before senior Cory Cox finally moved the needle with a deep two-point field goal with less than a minute in the half. At the break, Dearborn trailed the home team, the #1-seed, by a score of 30-26 and had the momentum swinging their way.
The home crowd had no reaction whatsoever at the announcement of the score from across town, Aquinas led Davenport 46-36 at halftime in the other semi-final game, as if they couldn’t care less and had the greatest faith in their squad to pull out this victory and another next Tuesday night against either opponent.
It looked like the Wolves were going to keep the dream alive to start the second half as they sliced the lead to only two points right out of the gate. The Golden Eagles, though, quickly found their footing. After a Cox fast-break layup, center Sam VanderSluis was fouled the next time down the court and made both free throws that seemed to spark the crowd and put the life back into his teammates. Keith Costen and Steigenga got buckets and Bradshaw regained his stroke with two consecutive three-pointers, giving Cornerstone a nine-point lead at 44-35.
Steigenga was then called for an offensive foul for dropping his shoulder into the defender on the next possession, to which coach Elders repeatedly told the official, “that’s a bad call, a bad call.” But even with coach Elders’ disgust for the outcome of that play, the Golden Eagles on the court kept their composure and held the Wolves at bay for the remainder of the second half. Costen slipped away from his defender for an easy bucket off an inbounds play to push the lead to 50-41. Steigenga continued his domination of the boards, consistently pulling down offensive rebounds and giving his team second chances to score. Bradshaw took advantage of Steigenga’s hustle and drained another pair of three-pointers before Jake Brubaker added one of his own as the Wolves watched their deficit grow to 16 points (59-43) with only 8 minutes left in the game.
Cornerstone needed that big lead, though. Over the final eight minutes, the Golden Eagles were outscored 27-20 by Dearborn. Most of the pressure came in the last minutes of the game as the Wolves picked up the defensive aggression and continually sent the home team to the free throw line in an attempt to stop the clock and gain ground. Kegley worked hard and fast to shrink the lead and Ashton Curd hit two three-pointers late in the game, but it wasn’t enough. Cornerstone made every free throw (8 of 8) in the final minute to seal the semi-final win.
Bradshaw led the Cornerstone attack with 20 points, VanderSluis added 19 points and Steigenga finished with 15.
Kegley led the Wolves with 20 points, Penn had 19 and Curd finished with 14.
Cornerstone (29-3) will host Aquinas (19-13), who defeated Davenport 79-77, in the WHAC finals at 7 p.m. Tuesday night at Mol Arena.