Hustlin’ Owls Fall to Cougars in NAIA Championship Game

The season ends for the Hustlin' Owls on a 28-8 record. Fink was named to the NAIA All-Championship Tournament Team.

Team 1 2 F
#7 Spring Arbor (30-7) 44 38 82
#8 Oregon Tech (28-8) 35 41 76

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. – No. 7 ranked and No. 2 seeded Spring Arbor University showed up in a big way on Tuesday night in the Sanford Pentagon as a career-high 32 points from Brandon Durnell sent them past No. 8 ranked and fellow No. 2 seed Oregon Tech 82-76 to win the first NAIA National Championship Title in their program's history.

The win is huge for the Cougars, who started their season unranked but quickly climbed the polls, earning a 30-7 record over the course of the season. The team pushed their way through National Championship play with a lead on the half in all five games.

As for the Hustlin' Owls, who upset defending champion and overall number one seed Indiana Wesleyan on Saturday and then CCC rival College of Idaho on Monday in a hard-fought battle to the Championship game, the loss keeps them from their fourth Championship Title in their program's history for at least another year.

SAU led off strong, as Luke Barber and Durnell landed three-pointers to take the team 8-for-0. OIT countered with a strong 12-2 run to turn the game in their favor, but Spring Arbor took the lead for good at the 11-minute mark as a Denver Cade three-pointer kicked off an 11-0 surge.

A major long-range shooting advantage for the Cougars gave them the edge they needed as they went 11-for-22 on the night for a 50% average, keeping Tech at a 42.9% average at 6-of-14 and holding them without a 3-point bucket for the first 13 minutes of the game.

The first half closed 44-35 in favor of Spring Arbor University, and the second half saw the lead jump into double-digits. Junior Seth Erickson and sophomore Cal Stueve didn't let them keep it for long though, scoring four and five points respectively as the Hooters went 13-for-6 to cut the lead to eight.

A strong game from Stueve helped Tech stay afloat, as he came off the bench to score 13 points, shooting 5-for-6 and making 3-of-4 from long range to come within a single bucket of his career high.

Shortly after, CCC Player of the Year Mitchell Fink led the Hustlin' Owls on an 8-1 run, scoring all eight points and bringing OIT within a mere four points of SAU as the clock slipped to the three-minute mark.

The Hooters put in the effort, but only made 2-of-5 in the final minutes as a Jeff Beckman block helped the Cougars hang on to the lead to the final buzzer.

Fink led the team with 25 points, scoring 16 of those in the second stanza alone as he led Tech's comeback effort. He also grabbed five rebounds and seven assists as NAIA's number one ranked player in assists per game, narrowly passing Paul Marandet, NAIA's number two ranked player, who tallied five.

Fink was only one of four Owls to score in double-digits, with junior Kellen Gerig adding 14 from the bench and junior Seth Erickson tallying another 12.

Stueve and Gerig's double-digit scores led OIT to a strong 37-12 advantage in bench scoring.

Durnell led SAU and took game high honors with his career high scoring as he shot 12-of-17 on the night and 4-of-7 from long range, adding eight rebounds as well to lead the team to a slight 32-30 edge in the category.

Marandet added another 16 points while Barber scored nine on the night and Jeff Beckman tallied another eight and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Oregon Tech held a 44-30 edge in the paint and forced eight turnovers while only committing four of their own.

However, the Cougars shot from the charity stripe with an 80% average to beat the Hooters 66.7% and held a 16-9 assisting advantage as the team came together for the win.

The season ends for the Hustlin' Owls on a 28-8 record. Fink was named to the NAIA All-Championship Tournament Team.