Westmont guard Cory Blau (22) rebounds against Dalton State guard Anthony Hillard (3) during the first half of the NAIA championship basketball game in Kansas City, Mo., Tuesday, March 24, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
Orlin Wagner
March 24, 2015

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) Just two years ago, Dalton State couldn't even dream about winning a men's basketball national championship.

There wasn't a team.

The program was disbanded 35 years ago, only to be reinstated last season. Even then, Dalton State wasn't eligible to participate in the NAIA until this season.

Jordan Bowling had 18 points and seven rebounds, Anthony Hilliard added 14 points and Dalton State (Ga.) College cruised to a 71-53 victory over Westmont (Calif.) College in the NAIA national championship game on Tuesday.

''This was our first chance to even compete and we did quite well,'' Dalton State coach Tony Ingle said. ''It's because of the kind of kids we have, the kind of support we have from our administration and our faculty, our fans, our boosters. Our players are just phenomenal. Championship character kids all the way.''

Bowling scored just two points in the semifinal game against Talladega and he didn't want that statistic to define him.

''I felt like I let my team down,'' Bowling said of the semifinal game. ''I had to come out and prove it tonight. I just happened to score. My main focus was playing defense.''

Hilliard hit a deep 3-pointer as time expired in the first half to give Dalton State a 16-point lead.

''Boy we hit some shots,'' Ingle said. ''Hilliard's shot to take us into halftime really put us in a great state of mind.''

Sean Tate drilled a 3-pointer with six minutes left in the game to put Dalton State up 53-44 and the Roadrunners never looked back.

Preston Earle contributed 13 points for Dalton State (32-4) and LaDaris Green grabbed 11 rebounds.

Cory Blau had 17 points for Westmont (25-11), eight coming in the first five minutes of the game. Nate Marsing and David Gunn added eight points apiece.

''We had to come out hot and get going early,'' Blau said. ''We couldn't dig ourselves in a hole, because they're a great team. You can't get in a hole against a good team.''

Westmont led by eight points early in the first half, but Dalton State went on an 11-3 run to end the half.

Dalton State had a sluggish start after the intermission and didn't score its first points until four minutes into the second half. The Warriors got within six points, but the Roadrunners pulled away.

The game was played at Kansas City's Municipal Auditorium for the 51st time in the 78-year history of the NAIA national championship.

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TIP-INS

Dalton State: The Roadrunners were 5-0 in their inaugural championship tournament and won their first-ever national championship game.

Westmont: The Warriors arrived in Kansas City under stressful circumstances. Their plane blew its tire shortly after takeoff in Denver, and had to make an emergency landing back at the Denver airport.

AWARDS

Dalton State: Jordan Bowling was named Most Valuable Player and was named to the All-Tournament Team. Preston Earle also earned a spot on the tournament squad. Coach Tony Ingle was awarded the NAIA Division I Coach of the Year.

Westmont: Britton Williams walked away with the Charles Stevenson Hustle Award. Coach John Moore won the Charles A. Krigel Award that is given to the coach of the team that ''best exhibits respect, civility, integrity, and fair play, the qualities that define sportsmanship.'' ... The Westmont team won the Dr. James Naismith-Emil S. Liston Sportsmanship Award.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT

''When you can have poise and enthusiasm at the same time, it's like dancing with Michael Jackson.'' -- Tony Ingle.

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