BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Tournament victories are never given away, they are always earned. Tonight's Appalachian Athletic Conference Semifinal game was no exception as Union outlasted Reinhardt College 70-67.
With the win the Bulldogs improve to 20-12 (11-5 AAC) on the year. Reinhardt College closes outs its season with a 17-12 (9-7 AAC) mark.
The Eagles grabbed the early momentum and control of the game, jumping out to an 11-4 lead just three and a half minutes into the contest. Union did not wait long to fight back as the Bulldogs went on a 31-6 run, claiming a 35-17 lead. The first half came to a close with Union leading by 15, thanks in part to the scoring efforts of senior Kearney Demus (Lexington, Ky.) who tallied 13 points in the opening frame.
Demus finished the game with 23 points on 8-of-14 (57.1 percent) shooting from the floor and 6-of-7 (85.7 percent) shooting from the charity stripe.
Union's control of the game left Robsion Arena during the intermission as Reinhardt tied the contest at 44-44 with 15:12 to play. From that point on, neither team claimed a lead greater that five points as both teams battled to advance to the championship.
The Eagles were on the verge of claiming control of the momentum, as well as the game, when Will Lewis appeared to be on his way to a breakaway dunk. Junior Darrel Jackson (Jonesboro, Ark.) had other ideas as he hustled down the floor to reject the attempt into the first row of seats in the upper arena.
The nip and tuck frenzy of a pace reached a climax as senior Beau Brown (Athens, Tenn.) converted on a circus layup to claim a four point lead at 64-60 with 2:34 to play. The Bulldogs held on down the stretch with solid free throw shooting, nailing 4-of-5 from the line.
The Bulldogs struggled from behind the arc all night, only converting 1-of-13 (7.69 percent) from long distance, but benefitted from consistent shooting from the field, making 25-of-60 (41.7 percent) from the floor and solid shooting from the free throw line, converting on 19-of-26 (73.1 percent) chances.
Union received solid individual performances from senior Curtis Stephens (Detroit, Mich.) who scored 11 points in the tilt and junior Ihsan Phillips (Philadelphia, Pa.) who pulled down 12 rebounds and tallied six points.
Reinhardt's Lewis performed nothing short of spectacular as the senior scored a team high 23 points and hauled in a game high 15 boards.
The win for Union marks its first return to the AAC Championship game, as well as its first 20-win season, since the 2005-06 season. The 20-win season is Union's 10th overall.
The Bulldogs return to action Monday night in the Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament Championship against UVa-Wise.
Tipoff is slated for 7:30 p.m. at Robsion Arena.