Spring Arbor University Men’s Basketball has won their first-ever NAIA National Championship with a victory of 82-76 over Oregon Tech in Sioux Falls, South Dakota on Tuesday night. This was the fifth game the Cougars have played in 7 days.
“It’s surreal right now,” SAU head coach Ryan Cottingham said. “You dream about this as a player and a coach and you never really think it’s going to happen. I’m at a loss for words right now, because this is a special group of young men, who love each other and play with great passion. We played at an incredibly high level these past five games, and we couldn’t even really soak it in because of how quick the turnaround was for each game. I knew these guys were champions before we even got here, but now we get to celebrate. Everything just clicked for us here in Sioux Falls.”
The Cougars came out of the gate strong. Luke Barber shot the game’s opening three-pointer, giving SAU an early lead. Paul Marandet and Brandon Durnell followed with points of their own to put the Cougars at 8-0 in the opening three minutes. The Hustlin’ Owls caught up in the beginning of the first half, but the game continued to go in SAU’s favor as the second half got underway. The Cougars hit three of four three-point opportunities in the first five minutes of the half. The Owls rallied at the end but the Cougars prevailed with a phenomenal showing in their first championship game.
Brandon Durnell was a key player for the Cougars in the championship game. Durnell, a sophomore from Fort Wayne, Indiana, completed his evening with a career-high 32-point performance, along with eight rebounds, to lead SAU.
Junior guard Paul Marandet had 16 points and five assists. Junior forward Jeff Beckman snagged 10 rebounds and added eight points, while senior guard Luke Barber had nine points and four rebounds.
“I keep thinking back to a quote by Dabo Swinney after Clemson won the national title this year,” Durnell said after the game. “He said, ‘No Hollywood producer could write a script like this, only God can.’ That’s really how we feel right now.” Durnell continued, “We have so much support from our fans, both around the campus and in my hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana. This is why I play basketball, and why I worked so far, and for us to end our season as national champions is just a dream come true.”