LIVONIA, Mich. – Madonna made the most of hosting its first-ever Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference (WHAC) Men’s Basketball Tournament Championship Game, defeating Cornerstone 79-71 to claim its second-ever tournament title and punch its ticket to the NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship. The game was closer than what the seeds indicated with second-seeded Madonna winning two in the regular season from fifth-seeded Cornerstone. But one thing is clear, you can never count out a team coached by Kim Elders.
Ten straight points by Tyler Baker early in the opening half sparked a Cornerstone surge that saw the Golden Eagles take a 20-13 lead. Madonna finally settled into a rhythm when Henry Speight got an old-fashioned three-point play to start a 17-5 run to go up 30-25. The Crusaders pushed the lead to 41-32 with just under two minutes in the half only to see CU score the final six points of the half for a 41-38 score.
Mark Mettie opened the second half with a layup to put Madonna on a 12-3 run for the largest lead of the game at 12. Cornerstone chipped away and cut the deficit to seven before both teams went cold with nearly two minutes without scoring. Speight once again sparked Madonna, this time with a pair of free throws, and the Crusaders quickly built the lead to 12 again with 12:19 left to play.
Cornerstone once again cut the deficit in half, started by a shot in the paint from Christian Rodriguez. Rodriguez then made a three-pointer with 4:50 left and Cory Ainsworth hit a jumper to pull the Golden Eagles to within one point with 3:40 remaining. Joshua Reynolds gave Madonna some breathing room with a free throw and Dwight Burton sank two from the charity stripe to put MU up by four. CU’s Rodriguez got a layup to make it 73-71 before Burton found Speight in the lane for a two-pointer. Burton hit two more free throws and finished with a dunk to close the book.
Ainsworth led all scorers with 21 points in the losing effort. The loss brings and end to Cornerstone’s six-year national championship appearance streak. Rodriguez added 15 points along with Tyler Baker as CU finishes with a 20-12 record. CU shot 43.5% from the field, but struggled at the free throw line, hitting just 9-of-17.
Speight (19 pts, 12 rbs) and Mettie (15 pts, 10 rbs) posted double-doubles for the Crusaders as three others scored in double figures: Burton 16, Joshua Reynolds 14, and Caleb Drumm 10. The Crusaders .459 from the field and were 14-of-17 from the charity stripe as MU qualified for its third national championship tournament (2013, 2019), receiving the league’s second automatic berth (Indiana Tech received the first berth as regular season champion).