WINONA LAKE – In an NAIA Top 25 showdown of men’s basketball powers, No. 20 Grace upended No. 3 Indiana Wesleyan 80-77 on Tuesday night for a key conference victory.
The Lancers, led by Greg Miller’s 23 points and 10 rebounds, snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Wildcats. Grace also moved to within two games of first place in the Crossroads League.
“I thought our guys showed some toughness tonight. We battled for 40 minutes against a great team and made plays when we needed to,” said Grace assistant coach Scott Moore. “This was about as good a team victory as we’ve had all season. Hopefully we can take this confidence and momentum into the Huntington game on Saturday.”
The Lancers (16-6; 8-3 CL) started the game with confidence, opening up a 12-4 lead after 3:30 of play.
The Wildcats (20-3; 9-2 CL) roared back, however, eventually claiming a 22-18 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers.
Freshman Brandon Vanderhegghen gave the Lancers a lift at that point with 3’s on consecutive possessions to steady Grace’s hand and put them ahead, 28-22.
The fast-paced first half saw each team make over 57 percent of their field goals as the Lancers took a 45-40 advantage into halftime.
Grace maintained their advantage for the first 10 minutes of the second half, but Indiana Wesleyan refused to fade.
The Wildcats regained the lead at 66-62 with less than nine minutes remaining. The Lancers responded, however, with five straight points to climb back on top.
Grace’s lead was razor-thin after that point as the score was tied four times in the final 5:04.
IWU thought they had momentum on their side late with back-to-back buckets to stake a 75-73 lead with 1:35 to play. But Grace ended the contest on a 7-2 run to seal the upset.
Bruce Grimm Jr.’s two free throws tied the game on Grace’s next possession. Miller then had the play of the game by muscling in a post move in the paint while getting fouled with 38 seconds left.
Miller’s and-1 put the Lancers clear by three at 78-75. A defensive stop on the Wildcats’ potential game-tying 3-pointer allowed Grimm and Elliot Smith to ice the win from the free throw line.
Miller’s 23 points came on 9-of-16 shooting from the floor. Grimm finished with 18 points and four assists, and Elliot Smith made 8-of-10 from the foul line for 17 points.
Vanderhegghen was a boost off the bench with nine points on 3-of-4 from beyond the arc. Karl Columbus provided a steady hand with six points, seven rebounds and four assists, and freshman Caleb Featherston pulled down seven rebounds – four of which were offensive.
As a team Grace held a 34-27 advantage in rebounding thanks to 12 offensive boards.
Despite shooting just 38 percent from the floor in the second half, Grace made up for it by getting to the free throw line and making their shots. The Lancers made 16-of-21 foul shots after halftime.
The Lancers’ next task in the Crossroads League is a road contest at Huntington on Saturday at 3 p.m.