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College basketball: Aurora University claims NAC tourney title

Updated: March 25, 2013 6:58AM

Winning championships on the road is actually pretty simple.

All you need to do is shoot the nets off the rims to open up a sizeable lead, grab every key rebound in sight and depend on a group of seniors when it appeared the unthinkable was about to happen.

Aurora University’s basketball team did all of that Saturday at Lakeland College and has punched its ticket to the NCAA Division III Tournament.

The Spartans (22-6) hit 60 percent (21-for-35) of their first half shots and stormed to a 26-point lead (51-25), then wilted some midway in the second half when the Muskies (23-6) cut the deficit to seven (70-63).

That’s when the senior trio of Mark Adams, Mike Bumber and Esteban Vega took over the game. They led a clinching 18-3 run and AU rolled to the Northern Athletics Conference Tournament championship, 95-71.

Adams (21 points) scored seven of the 18 points during the run, Bumber (21 points) knocked down his seventh trey and Vega (13 assists) was 4-for-4 from the free-throw line.

They refused to leave the court without the championship trophy.

“It’s the time of the year where you’re only as good as your seniors. These guys have been on a mission since Day 1,” AU head coach James Lancaster said. “The best team won, we really believe that, but we never expected that score. We were on tonight.”

The Spartans jumped to a 10-0 lead and never trailed. Adams hit two three-point shots during AU’s 19-2 early spurt and Bumber had 15 points (all on threes) as the Spartans left for intermission with an 18-point lead (51-33).

Bumber and Adams were an astounding 10-for-12 on three-point shots and the Spartans, led by Kyle Pilmer with 10, won the rebound battle, 42-32.

Even so, Lancaster knew the game wasn’t over.

“No way,” he said. “You’re going into their gym and they have 23 wins. We knew a run would come, (but) they had to expend a lot of energy to get back into it.”

The Muskies battled back behind the play of 6-9 junior Justin Ward. He had 16 of his team-leading 21 points in the second half and helped pull Lakeland to a workable seven (70-63) with nine minutes remaining.

AU’s finishing run started mildly enough with a free throw from Pilmer. Then the Spartans dug in their heels on defense, created turnovers and grabbed missed Lakeland shots.

A huge key to the victory was that Lakeland’s Jake Schwarz, the leading career scorer and rebounder in the NAC, was in foul trouble from the start and eventually fouled out with nine points and five rebounds.

“We did a great job on Schwarz, he never got in rhythm,” Lancaster said. “We ran a lot of people at him.”

AU will find out who and where they play in the Division III Tournament on Monday.

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