BRANSON, Mo. – The Grace College men’s basketball team continued its inspired play in the NAIA National Championships with a 72-53 victory over California Maritime on Friday night.
The Lancers advanced to the “Elite Eight” round for the third time in the past six years where they will meet the winner of Dakota State and St. Thomas on Saturday at 8 p.m. EST.
Elliot Smith made four 3-pointers for 18 points, and Karl Columbus added 18 points and nine boards to pace the Lancers. Smith is a former standout at Northridge High School, while Columbus played his prep basketball at South Bend Riley.
“Tonight was a contrasting type of game from last night. Playing in the Crossroads League definitely prepares us to play against up-tempo teams and against teams that slow it down and pack it in the paint,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “They worked hard to take Greg [Miller] out of things, and other guys stepped up. That’s what good teams do. We were able to spread the court more, and when they pack [the paint], you gotta hit outside shots. And Elliot [Smith] was happy to oblige.”
The defense for the Lancers suffocated the Keelhaulers (25-7) over the first five minutes, allowing just two points en route to an early 12-2 lead.
It was the Lancers’ turn to struggle on offense after that point, however, as Grace went 5:10 without making a field goal.
But the Lancers (23-9) managed to hold onto their lead, eventually taking a 22-19 advantage into the halftime break.
California Maritime trimmed Grace’s lead to 27-23 within the first minutes after halftime. But Bruce Grimm Jr., Columbus and Smith sparked the Lancers to a 22-4 run that broke the backs of the Keelhaulers.
Columbus went on an 8-0 run by himself, and Smith further propelled the Lancers when he buried three straight 3-pointers in less than 1:30 of action.
Grace’s charge handed the team a 20-point cushion that proved to be insurmountable for the final 13 minutes of regulation.
Kessler subbed Grace’s starters out for the final four minutes, and Grace’s bench maintained a comfortable advantage for the remaining minutes.
“A number of our people came off the bench and did a nice job,” Kessler said. “Playing back-to-back games shows the depth of your team, and I was really proud of our bench tonight.”
Grace’s defense held California Maritime’s starting players to 12 combined points. The Lancers, on the other hand, had 12 players register a point in the scoring column.
Grimm finished with eight points, three assists and three steals, Greg Miller tallied five points and eight boards, and freshman Kyle Fillman produced five points and four rebounds off the bench.
The Lancers shot 63 percent (17-of-27) in the second half compared to 31 percent (9-of-29) in the first half. The Keelhaulers made less than 35 percent of their field goals for the game, including 3-of-14 from beyond the arc.