ABOVE: Lorenzo Marinez, junior center, throws down a dunk over a Roosevelt defender in the first round of the national tournament. (Scott Nuss/Southwestern Sports Information)

By Tanner Carlson

Staff reporter

Coming off the program’s first victory in tournament history, No. 4 Southwestern prepares for the game against No. 1 Cornerstone on Friday at 1:45 p.m.

A season ago, Cornerstone finished their season as runners-up in the national tournament, falling to Union College 72-69 in the championship game.

The Cornerstone Golden Eagles reside in Grand Rapids, Mich., and play in the WHAC (Wolverine Hoosier Athletic Conference) where they finished their season with a 29-4 (19-1) record. Their only loss in conference came to Indiana Tech, a No. 2 seed in the tournament.

Both Southwestern and Cornerstone won their regular season conference titles, and both fell short of winning the conference tournament championship. Cornerstone fell short in the semifinals to Michigan Dearborn, whereas Southwestern lost in the championship round.

The Golden Eagles are averaging around 81 points per game while holding their opponents to just around 66 points, making their average margin of victory about 15 points. In the season they shot nearly 50% from the field. They get good looks at the basket and knock them down when given the opportunity. They also shoot as a team 70% from the free throw line, average just over 40 rebounds a game and get close to 15 assists per game.

The leading scorer for Cornerstone is Kyle Steigenga, senior forward, who averages 20 points a contest while shooting just under 60% from the field. Sam Vander Sluis, junior center, averages a double-double on the season, scoring 15 points a game and grabbing 13 rebounds per game. The third party of Cornerstone’s big three is Michael Bradshaw, senior guard. Bradshaw averages right at 15 points per game. This three-man-attack makes it difficult to hone in on slowing the team down.

How does Southwestern match up?

The Moundbuilders average roughly 87 points per game, but hold their opponents to 74 points, making their margin of victory 13 points. They shoot around 48% from the field. As a team, Southwestern shoots 71% from the free throw line, they get just under 43 rebounds a game and earn close to 14 assists per game.

Cameron Hunt, junior guard, leads the Moundbuilders in scoring with 23 points per game and just under six rebounds. LaJuan Hardy, freshman guard, joined the team halfway through the season. Hardy is second in points, with 15 per game. The final piece to Southwestern’s trio is DJ Wallace, senior forward, also averaging 15 points per game and just under six boards per game.

On paper, these two teams match up well, and there is plenty of firepower on both sides. This is how Southwestern prepares for a team with more tournament experience.

LaJuan Hardy, freshman guard, pushes Jacob Horsch, senior guard, in a convenience store shopping cart. (Southwestern Sports Information) 

“I would just say bonding with the team and seeing the best teams in the country against one another is the best part,” Jacob Horsch, senior guard, said. “Obviously, winning the first game at nationals in school history is very memorable as well.”

After finishing their opening game at 1 a.m. due to prior overtime games, the Southwestern coaching staff wanted the team to sleep in on Thursday. Once everyone was up they had a late team lunch at Marlins Family Restaurant, a home style buffet that serves breakfast all day and classic American food. The restaurant is right down the road from the team’s hotel in Sioux Falls, SD.

The men’s basketball team arrives in a winter wonderland upon entering Sioux Falls, SD. (Southwestern Sports Information)

Once the team had time to digest, they had a practice session and wrapped up their meeting by watching film on the Golden Eagles. The team plans on attending some of the tournament festivities as observers from the stands and watch the night games. The men will wrap their night up with a team dinner of Chinese takeout.

Be sure to watch the No. 4 Moundbuilders take on the No. 1 Golden Eagles, Friday at 1:45 p.m. The NAIA has streaming services available on their website, or you can listen to the game online at KSOKradio.com.

Tanner Carlson is a senior majoring in communication. You may email him at tanner.carlson@sckans.edu