KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Union College guard DeAntray Stevens led the way once again with 24 points, as the top-seeded and No. 24 Bulldogs pulled away from sixth-seeded Virginia Intermont, 74-63, to capture the 2014 Appalachian Athletic Conference Tournament Championship on Saturday at the MeadowView Convention Center.
With the win, the Bulldogs recorded their 28th victory of the season to break the record for most in a campaign that was set by the 1967-68 Bulldogs (27). This is also Union's second AAC Tournament Championship in program history (2011 the last), and the first time since 1971-72 that the Bulldogs captured both a Regular Season and Tournament Championship in the same year (both were in the KIAC).
"It feels great to win this Tournament," said head coach Kevin Burton. "Our team has developed so much through this whole process, we've come so far. We're at that phase where we are developing into genuine winners, in pressure situations, they know what to do. It's an easy team to coach, it's been great.
"They really, really wanted to win [The AAC Tournament], and I thought our mentality all day was to attack and take the game, and we did that."
In the game's outset, Union took the early 9-2 lead, capped by Gerard Newby jumper in the lane at the 18-minute mark. This would be one of the bigger leads the Bulldogs had in the period, as VI kept within striking distance the whole half.
Despite things being tight throughout, the Cobras could never take the lead, despite cutting the deficit down to one point on two separate occasions. With 29 seconds left, Stevens nailed a three-pointer to put Union up by four at 34-30, and that lead held into the break for halftime.
In the second half, the Bulldogs clamped down on the defensive end to put VI away and clinch the tournament title. Union opened the period on a 13-6 run to go up double-digits at 47-36 with 13:48 left, and despite making a run at the lead a few times, the Cobras could never get closer than five points to the lead the rest of the day.
Union went back up double-figures with 1:28 left at 68-58 and never looked back the rest of the way, as the Bulldogs clinched the Tournament Championship in an impressive 11-point victory.
Overall, Stevens, who was named the AAC Tournament MVP, went over the 20-point barrier for the second straight game with his 24 point effort. The sophomore, who also went 7-of-7 from the foul line, dished out five assists and recorded four steals in the victory, as well.
Elsewhere, Deante Johnson (who earned a spot on the AAC All-Tournament team), scored 12 points and snatched six rebounds, while freshman guard Michael Bueter also scored 12 after knocking down some key three-pointers in the second half. Meanwhile, senior Tarik Smith, who earned the last spot on the All-AAC Tournament team for Union, scored seven points.
The Union defense, however, was the key in the second half, as they held the Cobras to just 37.9 percent shooting from the floor in the period, along with a 1-of-10 period from outside the arc. Also, the Bulldogs never trailed in the contest, taking the early 3-0 lead and never relinquishing it over 40 minutes.
VI, who ends the year with a 13-16 overall mark, was led by AAC Player of the Year Joshua Hart, who scored a game-high 25 points.
Union (28-4 on the year) will now take the week off, awaiting their draw in the 2014 NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Championships, which begin on Mar. 12 in Point Lookout, Mo. The pairings for the Championships will be announced on Wednesday evening.