The Cornerstone Golden Eagles used a big second half to pull away from the Bellevue Bruins in a 69-57 win in the NAIA National Semifinals. Kyle Steigenga (19 points, 11 rebounds) and Sam Vander Sluis (12 points, 13 rebounds) both recorded double-doubles to lead the Golden Eagles back to the National Championship where they will be looking for their fourth title.
The teams traded baskets in the first half as Cornerstone got out to a 19-9 lead before the Bruins went on a 13-0 run to take a 22-19 lead. Michael Bradshaw hit a three just before the half to tie the score at 29-29 going in to the break. Steigenga led the Golden Eagles with 10 first half points and Vander Sluis continued his domination on the boards, pulling down 10 rebounds over the first 20 minutes. Both teams shot 13-0f-34 (38.2%) from the field in the first half.
Bellevue would take a 34-31 lead early in the second half, but senior Cory Cox scored 12 straight points for the Golden Eagles to give Cornerstone a 43-41. Eric Readman connected for a three-point play the hard way, giving Cornerstone a 50-47 lead with 11:23 remaining. Vander Sluis made a layup at the 7:20 mark that extended the lead to 56-51 and never looked back as he scored straight six points late in the game. The Bruins couldn’t stop the Golden Eagles as they pushed the lead to 12 points at the final buzzer. Cornerstone held Bellevue to just 9-of-24 shooting in the second half.
The Golden Eagles dominated the paint winning the rebound battle 43-32, which included 13 offensive rebounds and a 15-6 advantage in second chance points. Cornerstone’s third-leading scorer Cox finished with 14 points, one more than Bellevue’s leading scorer Nick Hilton, who had 13.
“It is pretty important…the team that has the most points in the paint usually wins” – Sam Vander Sluis
No. 2 ranked Cornerstone will play No. 1 ranked Union College (Ky.) on Tuesday at 7 p.m. EST and the game will be broadcast live on ESPN3.
“It means everything…and especially for these guys. They have worked so hard to get to this point and they deserve to be in this game” – coach Kim Elders on making the final.