KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A blazing start led to big offensive numbers at the Sanford Pentagon on Tuesday night. While both Oregon Tech and Spring Arbor (Mich.) traded shots most of the night, it was the Cougars who held-off the Hustlin’ Owls to claim their first NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship.
In a fast-paced first half, Spring Arbor came out of the gate on fire. Luke Barber hit the game’s opening bucket, a three-pointer, to give his Cougars an early lead. Paul Marandet and Brandon Durnell followed with both a bucket off a turnover and another three, to put the team from Michigan out-front 8-0 in the opening three-minutes.
Down 8-0, Oregon Tech pushed right back. The Hustlin’ Owls posted an 8-0 run of their own to even the game at 10 apiece with 14:18 remaining in the opening frame. The offense, however, stalled for Oregon Tech shortly after.
The Hustlin’ Owls went cold as the Cougars continued to put points up on the board. Spring Arbor rattled-off an 11-0 run to increase their lead up to 25-16.
While The Cougars stayed hot, the Hustlin’ Owls stayed within striking distance. On the whole in the opening 20 minutes, Oregon Tech shot 50 percent from the floor, continuing their explosive offense into the championship game.
Spring Arbor shot 70 percent from three-point range and 53 percent from the floor in the opening half as their persistence paid-off in the early going. Both Durnell and Marandet finished in double figures after one half of play.
The game, however, continued to trend in the direction of Spring Arbor as the second half got underway. The Cougars hit three of four three-point opportunities in the first five minutes of the half.
Mitchell Fink, who had posted 34 points in the quarterfinal victory against Indiana Wesleyan, posted nine, first-half points. He finished with 25 points for Oregon Tech, 16 in the final 20 minutes.
Brandon Durnell was the key cog for the Cougars in the title game. The sophomore from Fort Wayne, Ind., had already racked-up 24 points by the 13:45 mark of the second half as he led his team to its first NAIA Division II Men’s Basketball National Championship in just their third trip to the championship in team history. Durnell completed his evening with an impressive 32-point performance.
Oregon Tech chipped-away at the Spring Arbor lead and cut its deficit to as few as four with 3:20 remaining, but was never quite able to get over the hump. The difference remained four for much of the final three minutes, but the Cougars held-on and hit critical free throws down the stretch.
In addition to Fink for Oregon Tech, Kellen Gerig, Cal Stueve and Seth Erickson all finished in double figures.