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Eagles claw their way to National Championship

By Keith Norem
On March 21, 2016

The Eagles celebrate their well-deserved victory

For the first time since 1998, the Kirkwood Community College Eagles are the NJCAA Division II Men’s Basketball champions after upending top-seeded Triton 83-76 on Saturday night, March 19, at the Mary Miller Center on the campus of host Danville Community College in Danville, Ill.

With the win, the Eagles (31-4) earned the program’s second national title and dashing the talented Tritons’ 30-game win streak.

Leading the way for Kirkwood was Nick Richards with a team-high 21 points. Byron Harp finished the night with 15 points as Josh Bartlett chipped in 12. Cristen Wilson meanwhile pulled down a game-high 12 rebounds to accompany his eight points.    

The first 20 minutes of was back and forth as the teams traded buckets as Triton’s 48.3 percent from the floor edged out Kirkwood’s 45.2 percent shooting. The Trojans were also more proficient from distance as they converted on 4 of 10 chances.

Before the end of the half Richards went on a run for Kirkwood as he tallied 11 of 13 points in a span of four minutes to help put the Eagles out front, 37-36.

The second half saw much of the same up and down action that opened the game. The Kirkwood offense heated up as it shot 56.5 percent from the field as it went 3-for-7 from 3-point land.

The Triton offense remained consistent as they converted 14 of 15 attempts from the free throw line and shot 40 percent from the field. Though when it came to shooting from behind the arc the Trojans sputtered making only 2 of 9 attempts.

That seemed to be the difference in the game for the prevailing Eagles, the fact they could knock down shots and take care of the ball under a furious defensive effort from the Tritans in the second half.

The Eagles stayed poised under the pressure and exploited openings at times to get some easy baskets as well.  It was not the most pretty of hoops sometimes but the Eagles clawed for every point.

The Tritons sent the Kirkwood team to the free throw line unofficially 30 times in the second half.  The team shot the free throw terribly in the second half but they made enough to matter as they held off a challenging beast from the Chicago area and hoist the trophy.

The Eagles found that 40 minute game where they played great team defense, were efficient with their offense, did not turn the ball over, did force turnovers, rebounded, etc. that Coach Bryan Petersen was looking for and they found it at the perfect time.

Petersen was awarded the Coach of the Year award following the championship game with many supporters and his team there to celebrate with him.

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