Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

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March 14, 2014

Regional wrangle

Rams fall to Union in NCCAA playoff at Dome

BLUEFIELD, Va. — Every ’Dog has its day. Unfortunately for Bluefield College, that came on Friday night for these Bulldogs.

Corieon Pearson led three Bulldogs in double figures with 26 points, and combined with Pedro Faller to limit Bluefield’s top scorer to one point, and Union captured the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) Mid-East Regional championship with a convincing 91-76 decision over the Rams at the Dome Gymnasium.

Union (13-15), which will be eligible for NCAA Division II postseason in 2015, will participate in the NCCAA National Championship next week at Grace College in Winona Lake, Ind.

“We have got to practice hard, if we practice hard we know we are going to be prepared because our coaches do a great job of scouting,” said Pearson, who was 9 for 11 from the free throw line, canned three of the Bulldogs’ 10 3s, and dished out seven assists. “If we practice the way we are capable of then we know we will have a great opportunity to go win games in Indiana.”

Bluefield finished its season with a 16-13 record, and will return next season without a quartet of seniors, led by Kearsten Marion, Alex Lubsey, Josh Nesbit and Nick Stathopoulos.

“They are a good ball club,” Bluefield head coach Richard Morgan said. “We just didn’t play as well as we should have. We will look forward to next year and getting back in the gym and getting ready for next year.”

While Pearson was complemented by Ashanti Day with 23 points and 12 rebounds, and 20 points — including four 3s — nine boards and six assists from A.J. Roberts, the Rams were handcuffed when Pearson and Faller covered Marion like a blanket, and held him to one point.

Normally averaging nearly 17 points a game, Marion was 0 for 15 from the field.

“He is their leading scorer, and we knew if we could guard him like we are capable of doing then we had a great chance to win,” Pearson said. “I didn’t know until after the game that we did that good a job, give Pedro credit because he did a good job when he was on him too.”

Andrew Wilson led the Rams with 25 points, including four 3s, while Nesbit and Devin Page had 16 points each. Grisby added 10 points, including a layup with 9:01 to go in the first half that helped Bluefield tie the score for the only time in the game at 16-16.

Nesbit also had 10 rebounds, while Page added eight. Wilson had three steals. Grisby and Marcus Richardson each dished out three assists.

“We felt like the key for us is defensively, we never expected to hold (Marion) to that kind of a night, but we put our best defender on him and just hoped we could find a way to contain him,” Union head coach David Niven said. ‘We did a really good job on him, but they have got other guys,

“Wilson is a prolific scorer and can find all kinds of ways and he made tough shots, the post players are so difficult to match up with. We are obviously so thrilled to get a win here.”

Bluefield never led, falling behind 35-23 at the break, and faced a deficit of 21 with 8:12 left after consecutive dunks by Day.

“I am really proud of my team because I think this is the one of the toughest places you can come in and play,” Niven said. “Coach Morgan has done a great job with the team here.

“I told them before the game I know they are a couple of buckets away from preparing to go to (the NAIA tournament in) Kansas City this year. We feel like we played a really quality opponent and we are extremely excited to have a chance to play well enough to beat them.”

Free throws and 3s proved to be the difference for Union in the opening half. The Bulldogs scored 27 of 35 points on six 3s — three by Roberts and two from Pearson — and nine free throws, while Rams managed just one point, making no 3s and only one charity toss before the break.

“They played well, they took us out of our stuff,” Morgan said. “We didn’t make shots, that is the biggest thing, I think Marion was 0-fer, that is unheard of for him, bad night at the office.

“You are going to have those nights. That is part of it and you have just got to keep moving and hope what we did this year will carry over to next year. We are looking forward to some big things, we have some shoes to fill, but I am excited about the challenge for next year.”

Union went on a 15-5 run midway through the second half to build that 21-point lead, and the Rams clawed by to within nine, on a 3 by Wilson with 3:03 to go, but could never get any closer to the team-focused Bulldogs.

“We haven’t had that problem all year, no selfish play, nobody out to get theirs,” said Pearson, who hax 20 points to Day’s 21 in Thursday’s 27-point win over Tennessee Temple. “Anybody can go off and be the leading scorer, we had numerous different leading scorers this whole season.”

Early on the Bulldogs had trouble inside with Lubsey, who blocked four first half shots, but the senior managed just two points and fouled out with 5:42 to play.

“They are very good shooters, they can all shoot, they are very explosive, they took us out of our stuff and we just couldn’t make shots today,” Morgan said. “Lubsey didn’t play his best game and you can’t have guys who are your main guys not play well.”

Making the transition to Division II and playing in the Gulf Coast Conference hasn’t been conducive to many wins for the Bulldogs, but Union played teams close, going 7-7 in games decided by nine points or less.

Better yet, with a trip to Indiana up next for Union, the Bulldogs won three road games this season, which is three more than last year.

“It is pretty tough, we won three games on the road this year, but last year we didn’t get a road win,” Pearson said. “This is a big step for us and our team. This just shows that we have been growing from last year to this year. It was a good win for us.”  

—Contact Brian Woodson

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