Rocky Mountain College Wins NAIA Championship

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Devin Uskoski had 20 points and 24 rebounds, and Rocky Mountain College won its first national championship in any sport by beating Columbia College 77-61 in the NAIA title game Tuesday night.

A liberal arts school of 800 from Billings, Mont., Rocky Mountain (31-7) picked apart Columbia's defense to build a 19-point halftime lead and never let up, shooting 50 percent to turn the first NAIA championship between unseeded teams into a rout.

Nate Richardson, Rocky's 5-foot-5 point guard, darted and dashed his way through Columbia's defense, scoring most of his 14 points on a variety of high-arching floaters and runners in the lane. Chase Sukut provided the perimeter support for Uskoski with 11 points and James Bulluck also had 11 for the Bears, the fourth unseeded team in six years to win the NAIA title.

Christian Lewis had 24 points on 10-of-14 shooting and Brett Hoskins added 13 for Columbia (27-10) in its first NAIA title game.

The Cougars, who play in the shadow of the University of Missouri, couldn't get into a rhythm offensively against Rocky's aggressive man defense and had even more trouble on defense to fall into a big hole early.

Twice in the first half, Columbia coach Bob Burchard sent in five players off the bench, though not as punishment for the starters. Burchard came up with the pull-em-all strategy after a 77-60 loss to William Woods on Jan. 22 and the Cougars responded by winning 17 of 18, including four straight in the NAIA tournament.

It didn't matter what Columbia did this time.

Working through Uskoski in the post, Rocky made it look easy against Columbia's zone, pushing a five-point lead to 28-17 after Burchard's first mass substitution. The Bears led by 10 when Burchard made the switch again with 4 1/2 minutes left and Uskoski quickly responded with a three-point play, kicking off a closing 12-3 run that put Columbia up 45-24 at the half.

Rocky kept pushing after the break, overcoming a short Columbia run to extend the lead to 62-33 when Uskoski scored on a putback while falling to floor with 12 1/2 minutes left.

Uskoski, Rocky's leading scorer and rebounder, bulled his way past Columbia's defenders all night, getting 13 points and nine rebounds by halftime and finishing 9-for-14 from the floor overall.

Once it was over, he helped lead the celebration at midcourt, hugging and high-fiving his teammates as streamers filled the air before being named tournament MVP.