BARBOURVILLE, Ky. - Union College forward Deante Johnson 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 and Archie Adams - 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 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 scored 19 points, Michael Bueter 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.