BRANSON, Mo. – The Grace College men’s basketball team’s sparkling run through the 2013 NAIA National Championship came to a halt on Monday night in the national semifinals to No. 1 William Penn, 79-58.
The Lancers were tied with the top-seeded Statesmen at halftime, but Grace’s offense went cold for much of the second half en route to their defeat in the Final Four.
Grace made 23 percent of their shots in the second half on 8-of-35 shooting from the field, including 2-of-13 from the 3-point line. Their 31.3 percent shooting performance for the game on 21-of-67 shooting, including 7-of-23 from the 3-point line, was the team’s second lowest all year.
William Penn held a 49-47 lead six minutes into the second half, but the Lancers’ offense dried up as they tallied just 11 points over the final 13:20. Grace missed their last 11 shots of regulation and was scoreless for the final 4:11.
The Statesmen (34-1), winners of 19 straight games, closed the game on a 30-11 run.
William Penn advances to play No. 2 Cardinal Stritch (34-3) Tuesday night at 9 a.m. EST in the championship game of the 32-team, single-elimination national championships. Cardinal Stritch defeated Indiana University Southeast 69-56 in the second semifinal game Monday night.
The first half was a different story as the Lancers (24-10) held a lead for nearly the entire half against the highest-scoring team in the nation.
Midway into the half, William Penn managed to knot the game at 21-21. But Grace unleashed a 10-0 run thanks to 3-pointers from senior Elliot Smith and sophomore Karl Columbus to take a sizeable lead.
But the Statesmen showcased their offensive ability with 11 unanswered points after that point, claiming their first lead of the contest.
Grace brought the score back to even just before halftime at 36-36 with a pair of free throws from Dennis Williams.
Junior Greg Miller was a strong offensive presence in the opening half with 10 points in limited time (10 minutes) due to picking up his second foul.
Miller led the Lancers for the game with 15 points and a game-high 13 rebounds, and Smith made 3-of-7 from the 3-point line for 13 points.
Standout senior guard Bruce Grimm Jr. recorded 14 points, seven rebounds, four assists and two steals, and Columbus added 13 points on 6-of-10 shooting with seven rebounds. Senior Tannan Peters also hauled in seven rebounds.
Keith Steffeck paced William Penn with 18 points and 10 rebounds. James Devlin scored 17 points and Brandon Beasley had 15 points and 12 rebounds.
The loss ends the sterling careers of graduating seniors Bruce Grimm Jr., Elliot Smith, Lee Ross and Tannan Peters of the Lancers. Grimm Jr. was a former standout at Rochester High School and transferred to Grace after playing his freshman season at NCAA Division I program East Tennessee State University, while Smith starred at Northridge High School.
Over the past four years, Grace has appeared in three NAIA National Championships and won the 2012 Crossroads League tournament championship.
The Lancers do return a strong nucleus next year, led by Miller, a native of Akron who played at North Miami High School, along with former South Bend Riley standout Columbus, who had a very strong showing at the national tournament in the four games for Grace.
Grace will also welcome Logan Irwin to the mix next season. The former, high-scoring star guard at Whitko High School transferred into the program this year after playing at the start of his freshman season in 2012-13 at Stetson University.