By James Summerlin, Sports Editor
Union’s men’s basketball team saw its TranSouth Championship dreams and hope for an NAIA bid vanish after a heartbreaking home loss to Freed-Hardeman 89-80 in a TranSouth quarterfinals contest.
The theme for the Bulldogs this year carried over to Thursday’s contest. When the game came down to the wire, the Bulldogs could not pull out a win in the final minutes. Disappointment filled the locker room with the knowledge that the team rarely finished games in the season when it mattered.
“We need to execute when the game is on the line,” said Dani Marti, forward and junior business major. “We were never able to pull it together for a whole game. When the game is on the line, it seems we always come short.”
The loss kept Union from any share of a TranSouth title, a title the team has received either in the regular season or in the tournament for the past three years. This season was the last chance for Union to take the TranSouth title home.
Next year, the athletic program will transfer to the Gulf South Conference in the NCAA. Players hung their heads in the locker room after missing the opportunity.
“We know what our potential was all season,” said Antoine Hall, guard and senior digital media studies major. “The stage was set in our favor. We let it get away from us. We fought back and got leads, and they took them back from us.”
Freed-Hardeman hit their stride in the first half with a 16-4 run to put the Lions up 36-29. Union did fight back at the end of the second half. The Bulldogs pulled in a 6-0 run in the last two minutes of the half, capitalized by a buzzer-beating tip-in by Marti. Freed-Hardeman still led going into the locker room 39-37.
The Lions came out strong and increased their lead at the start of the second half. The Lions boasted a 50-40 lead at the 3:30 mark of the second half.
Union would not go quietly. A 14-2 run by the Bulldogs gave them a 54-52 lead and quieted the Freed-Hardeman cheering section. The lead was short-lived, and the Lions roared back with multiple runs. Union could not retake a lead or a momentum swing with Freed-Hardeman in control. The clock ran out on their season, and the Lions celebrated the win.
Union finishes the season with an 18-13 record and a 11-5 TranSouth Conference record. The Bulldogs will no longer be able to compete for any championships in the next two years, as they are moving to the NCAA Division II. In the two-year probationary period, they will play a Gulf South Conference schedule.
Skylar Vaden, senior sports management major, led the Bulldogs in scoring with 22 points. Leventrice Gray, senior physical education major, put up 16 points. Samuel Danache contributed 12 points. Marti earned a double-double for the night, grabbing 15 rebounds and putting up 11 points. Hall scored 10 points.
The Freed-Hardeman win advances the Lions to the semifinals, where they will face Martin Methodist.