Double trouble: Union men and women bring home AAC tournament titles

(Photo: Union Athletics)
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KINGSPORT, Tenn. - Men

There comes a time when all good things must come to an end. However, Blake Ervin said today was not that day.

With ice flowing through his veins, the junior guard from Maryville, Tenn., buried a 3-pointer from the left corner as the horn went off to give No. 20 Union College men's basketball the 84-81 victory over Montreat College (N.C.) and the 2020 Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament championship.

The tournament title is the seventh consecutive for the Bulldogs (24-9 overall) and eighth overall. Union continues its streak of winning the conference regular-season and tournament crowns, claiming the double in each of the past seven seasons.

"It doesn't get any easier, and it feels like one in a row," said head coach Kevin Burton.

It has been a roller-coaster of a season for Union as it struggled to find consistency and its form on the hardwood. But in the end, everything came together at the right time."

"From where we were in early to mid-November to where we are now, I don't know if anybody would've thought we'd get to this point," said Burton. "We were not equipped (early in the season) to be like we are now. We had to grow and mature, and it was a process and it was not easy."

Union looked to be well on its way to winning the championship as it led 79-67 with 4:24 to play. Montreat (24-8 overall) was within 81-72 with under two minutes to play when it went on a 9-0 run to tie things up. Victor Tshiona accounted for the final six points of the Cavaliers' run, scoring the final bucket with 23 seconds remaining, making it 81-all.

With the shot clock off, the Bulldogs worked the clock down in an attempt to have the final say. And they most certainly did.

Jakobe Wharton found Ervin open in the left corner, and the hero of the day found nothing but net as the horn went off and the Bulldogs celebrated the 84-81 win and another championship.

Ervin along with Richard Brown and Markelle Turner made the All-Tournament Team with Turner earning MVP honors. Turner finished the game with 20 points, while Brown posted a double-double with 11 points and 11 rebounds to go along with six blocks. Ervin finished with 15 points, going 5-for-6 from 3-point range.

"Everybody that played for us helped us in some way whether it was a little bit or a great deal. There wasn't really one single person that stood out," said Burton. "We had several people put together three good days."

Kelvin Jackson came through with 14 points, and Wharton had a solid game offensively with 11 points and five assists. Yet, Burton praised Wharton's defense as he was tasked with guarding AAC Player of the Year Austin Butler.

"Jakobe Wharton today guarded one of the best players in the country, and I don't know if anyone else in the country could've done as good of a job, forcing Austin Butler to go 5-for-18 from the floor."

Butler averages 22 points per game this season, but Wharton and the Bulldogs held him to a modest 14 and 2-for-8 from behind the arc.

In fact, it is Union's defensive play Burton credits for the title run.

"I know this really boring 'coach talk,' but I really like how we defended for three games," the Bulldog coach said. "Our highest field-goal percentage in the three games was 42 percent, and we won three basketball games shooting 38, 40, and 42 percent against three quality teams, which is kind of unheard of. Our mental toughness and desire to defend over the course of three days was the main reason why we were able to get away with winning the tournament."

Union finished the tournament shooting exactly 40 percent (80-of-200) from the floor, and the Bulldogs did not allow a single opponent to shot better than 39.1 percent in any of the three games. Montreat, one of the better offensive teams in NAIA Division II, was held to 36.8 percent (28-of-76) in the championship game.

Union now awaits its seeding and placement in the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament, which is set to tip off on March 11 in Sioux Falls, S.D. The bracket will be released on Wednesday.

Women

Union College women's basketball is bringing the Appalachian Athletic Conference (AAC) Tournament Championship trophy home to Barbourville for the sixth time. The Bulldogs defeated Milligan College (Tenn.) to earn the 60-46 victory on Saturday at the MeadowView Marriott in Kingsport, Tenn.

With the win, the No. 3 seed Bulldogs earn a program-record 26th win of the season. Union ends the tournament with a 26-6 overall record. The No. 8 seed Buffaloes end their season with a 15-19 overall record.

As AAC Champions the Bulldogs earn a spot in the NAIA Division II National Championship Tournament. The tournament begins March 11 in Sioux City, Iowa.

TURNING POINT

Union was first on the board in the game as LeAsia Linton hit a 3-point shot to open up the contest. The Bulldogs earned a four-point lead after a Chariss Wilson field goal. Milligan fought back hard and earned a two-point lead to close out the first quarter.

The second quarter was a low scoring affair as both teams combined for only 16 points. A Linton 3-point basket tied the game at 21-21 going into the half.

The Bulldogs took the lead for good in the third quarter using a 12-0 run to build a 12 point lead. Milligan made a push at with 4:53 left in the third and went on a run of their own scoring six unanswered points to pull within six.

In the fourth quarter, the Bulldogs came out ready to take the title. A J'Lyn Martin field goal started an 11-0 Union run with 4:34 left in the game to take a 15-point lead. The Bulldogs earned a 60-46 championship victory.

BULLDOG OF THE GAME

For the second straight game, LeAsia Linton broke her career-high record in points, scoring 24 in the contest. The junior guard also notched career-highs in field goals made (8) and free throws made (6). Linton also added four rebounds, two steals, and one assist.

TOURNAMENT HONORS

Brooke Hammonds earned the AAC Tournament MVP award while LeAsia Linton and Logan Calvert nabbed All-Tournament Team honors.

QUOTABLE

"In the second half I think we did a great job," said head coach Dean Walsh. "I could not be prouder of LeAsia (Linton). She carried us in the tournament this year. Brooke (Hammonds) also had a great all-around game and Katrina (Johnson) made some excellent passes."

"It was a total team effort. We did what we needed to do to win and that's all that matters. I want to thank everyone that showed up," added Walsh. "Without their support, we could not have gotten through this. It's time to get ready for Iowa."



 
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