KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Grace College men’s basketball team earned its third straight trip to the NAIA Division II National Championships with a 21-9 record.
The Lancers will take on Tennessee Wesleyan in the first round of NAIA Nationals on Thursday, March 7. Grace earned its at-large bid late Wednesday night when the field for the 32-team, single-elimination tournament, set for for March 6-12 was announced.
“We’re very happy to play in this tournament again – it’s been a very good run for us the past several years,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “We’ve had a great season so far, and by winning eight of our final 11 games, we got the wins we needed.”
Grace, who has punched its ticket to NAIA Nationals in five of the past six seasons, was ranked No. 20 in the Top 25 Coaches’ Poll released Wednesday afternoon.
Their opponent in the first round, Tennessee Wesleyan, hails from the Appalachian Athletic Conference and boasts a record of 25-7. The Bulldogs are winners of their past 18 contests and feature the third-highest scoring offense in NAIA Div. II at 90.6 points per game.
The Lancers earned the sixth of 12 at-large bids into the national tournament. Bruce Grimm Jr. (17.7 ppg, 5.4 apg), Greg Miller (17.3 ppg, 9.1 rpg) and Elliot Smith (11.3 ppg, 41% 3-pointers) lead Grace’s squad.
“The body of work for the season showed that we should be in the tournament, but we stubbed our toe against Marian in the last game. So for us we feel like we have a second chance, and with that comes a certain amount of energy. We want to make it count,” Kessler said. “Now we need to focus on staying loose for our first game. We need to play with no fear, play free on the court and get after it with confidence.”
The NAIA Division II National Championships, which are played at the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, begin March 6 with eight first-round games. There are eight more first-round contests, including the Grace-Tennessee Wesleyan game, on March 7. Eight second-round games are slated for March 8 with four quarterfinals on March 9, a pair of semifinal games on March 11 and the championship game on March 12 at 8 p.m. (CST).