BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Union College knows the road in the 2009 Appalachian Athletic Conference Men's Basketball Tournament and the trek begins Thursday with a 1:45 p.m. contest with Bryan (Tenn.) College.
Union owns the tournament's four seed while Bryan is the fifth seed. The Bulldogs enter the postseason with a 10-8 conference record after dropping a 76-73 contest against No. 24 King (Tenn.) College Saturday. The Bulldogs' overall record is currently 14-14.
The No. 4 seed is the highest for Union since the 2006 tournament and a No. 2 seed. The Bulldogs made it to the tournament championship game.
Bryan tied for fifth with Milligan (Tenn.) College with similar 9-9 AAC records, but the Lions own the tiebreaker. Bryan has an overall record of 13-15. In Bryan's season-finale Saturday, the Lions won 62-52 at UVa-Wise.
This will be the first time Union and Bryan will meet in the postseason since the 2005 tournament when the Bulldogs advanced thanks to a 74-72 victory. The 2005 tournament contest was the third straight year the two were matched up. Union won the 2003 tournament game, 78-77, while Bryan took the 2004 meeting 87-70.
Union won both games during the regular season with Bryan, one saw a buzzer beater while in the other the Bulldogs pulled away late.
The Bulldogs needed to overcome a sluggish start on Jan. 28 to defeat Bryan 69-59 in Barbourville. Union could only score 18 points in the opening half, but bounced back over the final 20 minutes.
Michael Hester (Independence, Ky.) scored 17 points to tie his career high as he went 9-for-11 at the free-throw line. James Johnson (Lexington, Ky.) provided 14 points and nine rebounds. Beau Brown (Athens, Tenn.) chipped in 11 points with five assists and four steals.
Scott Newton led all scorers with 23 points for Bryan and he collected 10 rebounds. Lamarr Shorts added a 12 point and eight rebound effort.
When the first two met on Nov. 22, Hester drove the lane with 4.4 seconds left to lay in the game-winning shot as Union won 55-53. The two points were part of his nine in the contest. Brown scored 15 and Johnson accounted for 14. Anthony Coote (Georgetown, Ky.) posted 10 points.
Once again Union started the game poorly, trailing 26-9 at one point in the opening half.
Cody Christopher led Bryan with a dozen points.
Union's leading scorer during the regular season was Brown with a 13.1 scoring average. He is the only Bulldog to start every game and he tied for the team lead in the steals category with 50.
Brett Miller (Carrolton, Ky.) collected 5.3 rebounds per game to lead the squad in the season. In all, he had 132 rebounds, one more during the year than Johnson as he finished the season with a 4.7 rebounds per game average.
Hester became the first Union player to dish out over 100 assists since D.J. Washington dished out 137 in the 2002-03 season. Hester has been credited with 117 assists in 26 games this season.
Bryan has used Newton to lead the offensive charge. He provides 15.6 points per game. Shorts and Christopher add 12.0 and 10.7 points per game, respectively.
Demond Craig runs the Lions' offense with 3.6 assists per contests.
The game will not have a block party feel as the two squads have combined for 92 blocks during the season, with Union registering 53. Covenant (Ga.) College's Brock Barber leads the conference with 45 blocks on the season, six more than the entire Bryan team.
The regular season history is in Union's favor as the Bulldogs are 12-2 since joining the AAC. The 12 wins are the most for Union against any opponent.
In the previous six AAC Tournaments, the Bulldogs have won their first game four times and twice won two games in the tournament. The first time Union went winless in the postseason was the 2004 tournament in which Bryan won 87-70.
The magic number for Union this season has been 70 points as the Bulldogs are 9-1 when an opponent scores fewer than 70 points. Bryan enters the game averaging 66.8 points per contest. In the Lions' last six games, all in February, Bryan has scored 70 or more three times. The most in the month was a 73 points in a win over Virginia Intermont. Bryan only broke the 70-point plateau one other time in conference play this season.
This will be the second time Union will play on a Thursday this season. The Bulldogs opened the season Thursday, Oct. 30, and Union suffered an 81-63 loss at Berry (Ga.) College.
The tournament gets underway Wednesday at 3 p.m. when eighth-seed UVa-Wise and ninth-seeded Virginia Intermont College meet. At 8 p.m. Montreat (N.C.) College, the seven seed, will meet tenth-seeded Covenant.
The first game Thursday features top-seed and the country's No. 7 team, Bluefield (Va.) College playing the winner between UVa-Wise and Virginia Intermont at noon. Union and Bryan follow at 1:45 p.m.
In the evening session King, the tournament's No. 2 seed, plays the winner between Montreat and Covenant at 7 p.m. After that game, the 8:45 p.m. contest features third-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan College playing Milligan.
The four winners from Thursday advance to Friday's semifinals to be played at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Saturday's championship game will be played at 6 p.m.
The tournament champion earns a bid to the NAIA Division II National Tournament. Bluefield has earned a bid thanks to the regular-season championship. If Bluefield wins the tournament as well, the conference's second bid will go to the regular-season runner up, King.