By John Gatto
KINGSPORT, Tenn. – Guard DeAntray Stevens (JR/Cincinnati, Ohio) scored a game-high 20 points off the bench to lead the way, as the No. 17 Union College men’s basketball team captured the 2015 Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament Championship in a 84-63 victory over Milligan (Tenn.) on Saturday afternoon.
With the win, Union captured their 20th victory in a row and moved to 29-4 on the year, breaking the school-record for victories in a season in the process. Milligan fell to 20-10 with the loss.
“There were several situations that I would call adverse throughout the game that we came through very well,” said head coach Kevin Burton. “DeAntray [Stevens] played his best basketball game of the season today, without him out there it would’ve been a different game.”
“We’ve accomplished so much the last few years and this season especially. Compared to where we were two seasons ago to where we are now as a program, it’s just a really neat time for us.”
In the first half, Union faced a partisan Milligan crowd at the MeadowView Marriott Conference Resort & Convention Center and the Buffaloes frenzied the crowd after taking a 15-8 lead with 13 minutes to go in the period. But, quickly, Union tied the game up at 15-15 after a 7-0 run over a two minute span.
With 7:42 left, Milligan grabbed the lead back at 23-19. This marked the final time on the afternoon that the Buffaloes held a lead, as a 10-1 Union spurt gave the Bulldogs a 29-24 lead with 5:11 left.
The final two minutes were critical for Union, as after Milligan cut the lead down to two points (31-29), the Bulldogs ended the half on another flurry, as an 8-2 run was capped by a Stevens three at the buzzer gave Union a 39-31 lead going into the break.
That lead, despite being eight points, proved to be too much for Milligan to come back from in the second half. The closest the Buffaloes came the rest of the way was six points (43-37), as a 6-0 run gave the Bulldogs a 49-37 lead within seconds of Milligan getting close to the lead.
From there, Union continued to pour it on, never giving up the double-digit lead the rest of the way. As the final seconds ticked away, the Bulldogs bench joyously celebrated their second straight AAC Tournament Title, the third for the program in the last five seasons.
Stevens was huge all game, knocking down big shot after big shot in his 20-point performance. Overall, Stevens made four threes, dished out seven assists, and had two steals. For his efforts, Stevens was named to the All-AAC Tournament Team.
Elsewhere, Dominique Hagans (SR/Lexington, Ky.) had another solid game for Union, scoring 16 points, grabbing eight rebounds, and making eight steals. For his play all Tournament, Hagans earned the AAC Tournament MVP Award, as well.
Rounding out the top scorers for Union was Deante Johnson (SR/Cincinnati, Ohio) and JD Tucker (JR/Charleston, S.C.), who chipped in with 15 points, apiece. Tucker was named to the AAC All-Tournament team for his play, as well.
For Union, the Bulldogs will now move onto the NAIA Division II National Championships, which will begin on March 11 in Point Lookout, Missouri. The entire 32-team bracket will be released by the NAIA on Wednesday evening.