BRANSON, Mo. – The Grace College men’s basketball team continued its memorable run through the NAIA Division II National Championships with a 72-59 win over Dakota State on Saturday night.
The victory lands the Lancers (24-9) in the national semifinals on Monday 7 p.m. EST against tourney No. 1 seed William Penn (Iowa) (33-1). The second semifinal will pit Indiana Southeast (30-4) versus second-seeded Cardinal Stritch (33-3).
The national championship game is set for Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST on the campus of the College of the Ozarks.
The Lancers got a strong team effort Saturday night as all five starters recorded double-digit scoring, paced by 18 points apiece from senior Tannan Peters and sophomore Karl Columbus.
Peters, who hails from Huntington, picked a perfect time for a huge game. The 6-6 senior forward, who missed 11 games this season due to a back injury, entered play Saturday night averaging five points-per-game. He hit 4-of-5 from long distance to highlight his sensational showing for the Lancers in the win.
Columbus, a former standout at South Bend Riley, turned in his second straight strong performance for the Lancers. The strong and athletic 6-2 sophomore guard, who tied for team-high honors with 18 points in Grace’s win Friday night, drained 8-of-11 shots Saturday night.
Grace made 50 percent of their field goals, including an impressive 16-of-18 performance from the free throw line. Grace’s defense also held Dakota State in check at 36 percent shooting for the game.
“I was really proud of how we made adjustments in the second half. As the game ended in the first half, we got a little lax and committed some turnovers,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “We adjusted well to Dakota in the second half, spread the court and attacked off the dribble. We are just thrilled to be here and excited to advance.”
Grace held onto a lead for much of the opening half thanks to excellent shooting. The Lancers made 54 percent of their field goals before halftime.
Ballhandling was an issue for Grace in the beginning stages of the half, however, as they committed six turnovers in a four-minute span. But for the final 34 minutes of regulation, Grace turned the ball over just four more times.
Dakota State kept themselves in the game by drilling 6-of-12 from the 3-point line in the first half. The Trojans (24-10) ended the half on a 12-4 spurt to cut Grace’s advantage to 35-34 at the half.
With 18:33 to play, the Trojans led 38-37 before Grace seized control of the game with a crucial 15-2 run. Grace led 52-40 after their charge and never trailed again.
The Trojans did not go down easily, however, as they clawed their way back to within four points of the Lancers’ cushion with seven minutes remaining.
But Grace’s defense secured the team’s place in the semifinals by yielding just four points over the final seven minutes.
“Several people really stepped up and had nice jobs for us. Tannan [Peters] particularly showed some real determination and shot the ball well today. Elliot [Smith] and Bruce [Grimm] gave us the shooting we needed today, and Karl [Columbus] came through with his jump shot.”
Columbus made 8-of-11 from the floor to go along with five rebounds and three assists, and Peters swished 4-of-5 from the 3-point line for his 18 points.
Senior guard Elliot Smith made a pair of 3-pointers for 12 points, senior guard Bruce Grimm Jr. tallied 12 points and four assists, and junior forward Greg Miller produced 10 points and 12 rebounds. Smith is a former standout at Northridge High School, while Grimm Jr. played at Rochester and Akron native Miller starred at North Miami.
The Lancers, who were knocked out of the national tournament in the first round each of the past two years, have definitely found their stride this time around in the 32-team, single-elimination event. Grace has won all three of its games so far by double-digit margins.
Yusuf Vinson and John Lamb each scored 14 points to lead Dakota State, which finishes at 24-9.
Grace’s semifinal matchup on Monday (7 p.m. EST) will be the team’s first since the 1991-92 season. That year, coach Kessler’s Lancer team claimed a national championship.