WINONA LAKE – The Grace College men’s basketball team is set to embark on the 2015 NAIA Div. II National Basketball Championships this week.
The Lancers open the tournament on Thursday at 11:15 a.m. (ET) against the No. 7-seeded Bellevue (Neb.).
The Lancers (21-10) are to making their sixth trip to NAIA Nationals in the past eight years under head coach Jim Kessler. Grace’s last trip in 2013 resulted in a run to the national semifinals. Grace received an at-large berth to the tournament despite losing its last three games of the season.
The Lancers have relied on balanced scoring and a tenacious defense this year. Among NAIA Div. II teams, Grace ranks No. 6 in guarding the 3-point line (31.2 percent) and No. 9 in scoring defense (64.2 points per game).
Offensively, Grace has four players averaging double figures in points, including Logan Irwin (13.5 ppg), Niko Read (11.9), Brandon Vanderhegghen (10.5) and Dennis Williams (10.2). Irwin, Read and Vanderhegghen have drilled over 40 treys apiece this season, and Williams is making 60 percent of his shots from the floor.
Irwin, the team’s floor general and point guard, has one of the best assist-to-turnover ratios in the nation with 140 assists to just 50 turnovers.
Click here to hear a radio preview show with interviews from Grace coaches and players.
The Bellevue Bruins (28-5) are the No. 7 seed in the tournament after winning the Midlands Collegiate Athletic Tournament. Bellevue is one of the most experienced national tournament teams in Branson as the Bruins are making their 16th trip, second only to the host College of the Ozarks.
Bellevue has made 12 consecutive trips to Branson and has lost in the First Round only once in that stretch (2006).
The Bruins feature a balanced offense of their own with the two-headed attack of Percy Lemle and Taylor Young both averaging 16.3 points per game. Alex Worthen-Harris (11.0 ppg) and Thomas Hammock (9.1) add scoring depth to the high-scoring Bruins, who average 80 ppg. Bellevue has reached 90 points in a game nine times, including a 102-point outburst against William Penn on Dec. 13.
Offensively, Bellevue relies heavily on the 3-point shot. The Bruins average over eight made 3’s per game and make 37 percent of their attempts from beyond the arc. Bellevue shoots 46 percent from the floor and 70 percent from the free throw line.
With a win, Grace would take on the winner of No. 10 Midland and Southern Oregon on Friday at 2:45 p.m. in the Second Round. A win on Friday would put Grace in the national quarterfinals on Saturday at 4 p.m. With a loss, Grace would return to Winona Lake, Ind., to play in the NCCAA National Basketball Championships held at Grace from March 18-21.