BRANSON, Mo. – The Grace College men’s basketball team may have entered the 2013 NAIA National Championships as the underdog, but any questions of their caliber were quickly erased with a 93-69 throttling of No. 13 Tennessee Wesleyan on Thursday.
The Lancers shot 65 percent and ripped off 54 first-half points to knock off the hottest team in the nation.
The Bulldogs (25-8) owned an NAIA-best 18-game winning streak entering their game against the Lancers. But Tennessee Wesleyan, who is the third-highest scoring team in NAIA Division II, was held to 21 points below their season average on Thursday.
“In this game, our discipline and execution was really the key to what happened,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “When you shoot 65 percent from the field, that’s evidence that you are taking good shots. We continually got to the basket.”
Grace could not have started any stronger by making their first five shot attempts and forcing three turnovers from the Bulldogs. After a 3-pointer from Tannan Peters less than three minutes into the contest, the Lancers (22-9) owned an 11-0 lead.
Tennessee Wesleyan countered with seven unanswered of their own before back-to-back 3-pointers from Elliot Smith and Greg Miller jumpstarted the Lancers.
Grace made an impressive 69 percent from the floor in the first half. They continued to find the mark after halftime by making 12-of-20 (60 percent).
The Bulldogs’ offense did its best to keep pace with the Lancers in the second half, but Tennessee Wesleyan never inched closer than 11 points of Grace’s lead after halftime.
Grace got to the free throw line 19 times in the second half and made 13 of their attempts.
“Defensively we were able to keep the ball in front of us for the most part. We got on the boards strong which was huge,” Kessler said. “I’m really proud of them. This was a good effort by us on both ends of the court.”
Bruce Grimm Jr. and Greg Miller each topped 20 points in the win. Grimm produced 25 points, four assists, three rebounds and three steals, and Miller added 21 points and seven boards. Both players went 9-of-14 shooting.
Smith buried 3-of-4 from beyond the arc for 11 points, Karl Columbus tallied 11 points and four assists, Peters pulled down a game-high seven rebounds, and Dennis Williams added 10 points in 16 minutes off the bench.
The Lancers will play on Friday in the second round against the winner of Northwestern (Iowa) and California Maritime at 6:45 p.m. EST.