WINONA LAKE – The only team to have a true home-court advantage, Grace College opened up in style at the NCCAA Men’s Basketball National Championships Wednesday night. Ten Lancers scored in an 85-66 rout of Alice Lloyd in the first round of the tourney.
Grace used the hot shooting of Brandon Vanderhegghen, who finished 8-12 from the floor and scored a game-high 25 points. But the return of Caleb Featherston to the court – who is still recovering from a broken hand – was huge. Featherston scored just four points, but his hustle off the ball and attitude were just what the Lancers needed.
“His energy and enthusiasm – he wants to play – brought an energy to us,” said Grace College head coach Jim Kessler. “That first couple possessions, he got his hands on how many in a row. Those are heart points that set the tone for how we were going to play tonight. We were going to play hard and make things happen.
“I challenged them, there are a lot of teams in this tournament that are athletic, and we might be the least athletic. But I think basketball players win games. I challenged them tonight that we needed to be basketball players.
“When you play like a basketball player, that’s what happens. That’s what Indiana is known for.”
Three other Lancers finished in double digits on the scoreboard, with Erik Bowen (14), Logan Irwin (12) and Tre Olive (10), but Kessler was very happy with how his team responded to not only losing its last game Saturday night in the Midwest Regional, but not getting tournament jitters other teams showed throughout Wednesday.
“At halftime we emphasized let’s keep pushing, let’s keep being the aggressor,” Kessler said. “Not sit back on our heels and make some things happen. They made a run and we responded. I was not happy with some of our defensive effort, but subsequently we got back and finished it.”
Lloyd’s leading scorer this season, Tyler Rogers, was frustrated by the Lancer defense for a good bulk of the night. Rogers, who averaged 16.4 points per game coming in, did get 15, but got most of them in the second half with the game already slanted in Grace’s favor. Mason Pack led the Eagles with 19 points, and Dondre Warren had 10 points and 10 boards.
Grace (20-13) advances to the championship bracket and will face Emmanuel, which beat Central Christian 76-47 in the final game of the evening. The game will start at approximately 8:45 p.m. Thursday. In the other game of the winner’s bracket Trinity International and Southwestern Christian, both winning earlier in the day Wednesday. The Lancers can finish no worse than fourth in the tournament after Wednesday’s win.