Kyle Steigenga led the way with 22 points and Sam Vander Sluis pulled down 17 rebounds, 2nd-most in tournament history, in the Golden Eagles victory over one of the most storied teams in NAIA history.
Cornerstone, ranked #1 in the nation, got out to an early (8:30 a.m. local tip) lead and found themselves up by 15 points, 23-8. But the Cougars, who were also ranked tops in the nation for the first third of the regular season, fought back with a late 15-5 run to end the first half and trailed 35-29 at the break. St. Francis didn’t get to the free throw line in the first half, Cornerstone was 3-for-3 from the charity stripe.
In the second half, the crowd wouldn’t have to wait very long to see the script flip from a game of runs to a back-and-forth battle for the win. The Cougars opened the second half on a 10-0 run to take the lead at 39-35 as senior Kyle Sovine finally got going on the offensive end. Sovine would score 18 points in the second half (22 total) as the teams continued to trade baskets and the lead until the 6:33 mark. Vander Sluis and Jake Brubaker hit four key free throws to give the Golden Eagles a 57-52 before the Cougars responded with four points and were within one point of the lead. After a timeout by coach Kim Elders, senior Cory Cox hit a three-pointer with 2:36 left to stretch the lead to four. After a defensive stop, Steigenga drove the left baseline for a reverse layup and the Golden Eagles sealed the victory with four more free throws, finishing the game on a 9-2 run. Cornerstone held the Cougars to just six points over the final 6:33 of the game.
“It was a battle…All their points were in the paint in the first half and we talked about that at halftime and made some adjustments and really took care of the rebounding as well” – Head coach Kim Elders
Cornerstone advances to the quarterfinal round where they will face IU-East, a 73-68 winner over Northwest Christian (Ore.) on Saturday, March 11 at 2 p.m. EST.
|Sam Vander Sluis||4-8||0-0||4-5||2-15||17||2||12||3||1||5||1||37|
|TEAM TOTAL %||41.2 %||42.1 %||88.9 %|