BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Union College forward Deante Johnson (Cincinnati, Ohio) scored a team-high 21 points, leading the No. 24 Bulldogs to a historic 82-73 victory over Bryan (Tenn.) on Wednesday night at Robsion Arena.
With the win, Union clinched the outright Appalachian Athletic Conference regular season championship, their first since joining the conference in 2002 and the first of any kind since the 1971-72 Bulldogs captured the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference crown. Union (now 24-4 overall and 15-2 in the AAC) also secured a bid into the 2014 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Championships in Point Outlook, Mo. with the victory.
"Honestly, with about four and a half minutes left and up 11, I thought to myself that we could hang on and win this game, and we did," said an emotional head coach Kevin Burton afterwards. "I was thinking about all my former players at my former school Lambuth (Tenn.) and the kids from last years team here and just how impactful those kids have been in my life. To come here and with these kids do this in a year and a half is very gratifying.
"It's just an awesome, awesome feeling. I'm so pleased and so proud of them."
After honoring both of Union's seniors - Tarik Smith (Tempe, Ariz.) and Archie Adams (Aiken, S.C.) - before tip-off, the first half was played at a quick pace. Union finally distanced themselves late in the period, opening a 15-point lead at the 3:58 mark (42-27) after a DeAntray Stevens (Cincinnati, Ohio) three. The Bulldogs were able to keep that double-digit lead into the break, taking a 46-36 lead to the locker room for intermission.
In the second half, Bryan began to chip away at the deficit, cutting it all the way down to 58-56 with 8:20 to go. Here, the Bulldogs went on a back-breaking 11-0 run, capped off by a Johnson jumper in the lane with 5:30 left to give Union the 71-60 lead.
The deficit was too much for the visiting Lions to come back from, as the Bulldogs salted the game away at the free throw line. As the final buzzer sounded, the jubilant Bulldogs began their celebration, as players cut down both nets to commemorate the win.
Overall, Johnson led four Union double-digit scorers in the win with his 21 point night. Meanwhile, Fitzgerald White (Miami, Fla.) scored 19 points, Michael Bueter (Newport, Ky.) added 16 points and Stevens pitched in with 14 points.
Bryan was led in the loss by forward Brandon Cole, who poured in a game-high 34 points.
By the Numbers
• This is Union's eighth outright regular season conference championship in school history, seven of which came in the KIAC.
• Union will also make their third appearance all-time at the NAIA National Tournament in March. The Bulldogs made the trip in 1968 and 2011, dropping their first game of competition both times.
• The Bulldogs end their home season at Robsion Arena with a 12-1 overall mark, their lone loss coming on Nov. 20 to Montreat (N.C.) in double overtime 123-119.
• Union will enter their regular season finale winners of 17 of their last 19 games. The team is also 14-1 since the calendar turned to 2014.
Union hits the road on Saturday for their regular season finale, traveling to Reinhardt (Ga.) for an AAC-tilt. Tip-off is set for 4 p.m.
"We found a way to win even though I felt we didn't play very well," Head Coach Sean Woods said. "That is the sign of a good team though. That was a good basketball team that was well prepared to play us tonight."
Warner, who scored a game-best 28 points, shot 8-of-18 from the floor, 4-of-11 from outside the arc and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line. This marked the guard's 54th career effort in double figures, including 25 this year. He also has nine 20-point performances this season.
Senior Chad Posthumus added 17 points and a game-high 18 rebounds. The center now has 25 career efforts with 10+ boards, including 19 this year. It was also his tenth double-double this season and 12th in his 60-game career.
Sophomore Brent Arrington (17 points) and junior Luka Pajkovic (10) also scored in double figures. The contest featured 53 fouls and 70 free throws.
"I thought we wore them out and foul trouble became a factor for both teams," Woods added. "We were finally able to get the ball inside."
Junior Kareem Storey contributed a game-high nine assists. The Eagles posted a 20-11 advantage in assists, as well as a 39-31 rebounding advantage and a 42-19 upper-hand in bench points. MSU has still only been out-rebounded once in its 28 games.
Travis Betran led Austin Peay with 24 points. Ed Dyson added 13 points, while Will Triggs and Fred Garmon scored 11 each.
Senior Drew Kelly tied the game at 71 with 28 seconds left in regulation on a three-point play. Austin Peay missed a potential game-winning three-pointer with less than a second left.
With nine ticks left on the clock in the first overtime, Warner knocked down two free throws to once again tie the game, this time at 77. The Govs missed another would-be game-winner as time expired.
Warner opened the second overtime with a three-pointer, followed by a Posthumus dunk to propel MSU to its largest lead, 82-77.
Triggs made the second of two free throws with 35 seconds left to knot the contest at 88. Warner penetrated into the lane, spun and got off a jumper with 0.8 showing for the win.
The Eagles shot 27-of-61 (44 percent) from the floor, 10-of-29 (35 percent) from three-point range and 26-of-35 (74 percent) from the charity line. Austin Peay knocked down 29-of-56 (52 percent) from the field, 5-of-13 (39 percent) from outside the arc and 25-of-35 (71 percent) from free-throw range.
The Eagles continue their season at Murray State Saturday. Tip-off is set for 8 p.m. ET.
"Murray State is a very good team," Woods said. "But we have a chance to go there and win and maybe even get two byes in the tournament. We have to go there and be ready to play."