BRANSON, Mo. – The Grace College men’s basketball team is poised to get back onto the hardwood on Thursday for the NAIA National Championships.
The Lancers (21-9) will face off with 13th-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan in their opening-round battle at 5 p.m. EST.
Grace holds an all-time tournament record of 8-5 in the NAIA Division II National Championship, but the Lancers are hoping to buck a recent trend of losing in the first round (2012, 2011). Grace boasts an experienced postseason roster as they have advanced to NAIA Nationals in five of the past six years.
The Lancers’ opponent, Tennessee Wesleyan, owns the longest current winning streak in the nation. The Bulldogs have not tasted defeat since Jan. 2 en route to their 18-game winning streak entering Thursday’s contest.
“Tennessee Wesleyan has been on a big run as of late. They’re an athletic, up-tempo team – which we have played well against in the past,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “They play deep, hard and up-tempo. They’re a very nice team with several quality wins on the schedule.”
The Bulldogs are searching for the program’s first NAIA tournament victory as they have come up empty in each of their previous four attempts. Tennessee Wesleyan features the third-highest scoring offense in the country at 90.6 points per game. Desmond Crisp paces the Bulldogs with 16.0 points per game.
The Lancers are led by their big three of seniors Bruce Grimm Jr. and Elliot Smith and junior Greg Miller. Grimm, who hails from Rochester, averages 17 points and five assists per game. The heady and steady guard earned the Crossroads League Defensive Player of the Year honors. Smith, an alum of Northridge High School, averages 11 points-per-game for the Lancers and is a 3-point threat from his guard spot. Miller, a junior forward from Akron (North Miami High School), averages 17 points and nine rebounds per game for Grace.
The 32-team, single-elimination tournament, being played at the College of the Ozarks, began today and concludes March 11. Bethel College, which won the Crossroads League Tournament title, was scheduled to play its first-round contest this afternoon. The Lancers split with the Pilots during conference action this season. Grace finished 13-5 in the Crossroads League, good for a second-place finish in the regular season.
With a win over Tennessee Wesleyan on Thursday, Grace will play in the second round on Friday at 6:45 p.m. before the quarterfinals on Saturday at 9 p.m. View the 2013 bracket here.