WINONA LAKE – Grace College men’s basketball coach Jim Kessler has seen it all in his three-plus decades on the bench for the Lancer program. Two different basketball teams played on the court Saturday afternoon, both wearing white with ‘Grace’ on the jerseys and shooting at the same basket. The team that trailed by 16 points in the first half of the showdown with Goshen College wasn’t the same Grace team that ended up winning 87-79.
“It really was a tale of two teams and two different games, that’s a perfect way to look at it,” Kessler said with his signature wry grin. “At halftime, I was really unhappy with them. We didn’t say a whole lot. Sometimes you have to use the whip and the spurs, but you don’t have to say a whole lot to get the horse moving again. They got the message and played basketball like we know we can.”
Goshen took a 33-17 lead after Alhassan Barrie scored a deuce, the Leafs looking like they were ready to run away with an easy Crossroads League win. Grace would chisel the lead down to three, only for Dominique Cartier to eventually bury a three at the halftime buzzer to put Goshen back up eight at 46-38.
Goshen would get the lead back up to 11 before the Lancers would make a serious run, fueled by Stephen Halsted. The junior marksman hit three three-pointers in just over a two-minute span, giving Grace its first lead since the first minute of the game at 58-57. The Lancers would go on a 14-2 run to take the lead in that stretch.
Tre Olive hit a three to give Grace a 65-64 lead with 8:10 to go, and the Lancers wouldn’t trail again. The Leafs would keep it within three after Kevin Phillips scored to make it 77-74, but Grace would make eight free throws in the final 2:05 to wrap up its first Crossroads League win of the season.
Phillips at moments played like Hakeem Olajuwon, using a tremendous spin move in the lane to attack the basket and working the boards. Phillips finished with 16 points and nine rebounds for the Leafs. Christian Grider would score a game-high 29 points on 11-13 shooting from the floor, leaving Kessler on the sideline on more than one occasion raising his arms wondering if any Lancer would guard him after wide open burials.
Cartier added 16 points for Goshen (9-9, 2-4 CL).
Halsted would hit four threes in all, scoring 16 total points. Erik Bowen paced the Lancers with 23 points and some big boy play in the paint against Phillips and the Goshen trees, pulling down five boards as well.
Olive finished with 10 points, five rebounds and four assists and Logan Godfrey accumulated 16 points and 12 rebounds.
One of the key men in the Grace rally not standing out on the scoresheet was Jaret Sons, who only had four points and three rebounds. Sons, however, prefers to set up outside and camp on the perimeter, but drew the assignment down the stretch to cover Phillips in the paint. Phillips only made one basket the final 11:49 of the game, largely in part to what Sons turned in.
“Bowen was in foul trouble, and we had to put someone else on (Phillips), so we went to Sons and Godfrey,” Kessler said. “Jaret did a nice job. If you allow the post players to catch where they want to catch it, it’s really difficult to move them away and they will usually score. We had to move (Phillips) away from the basket, and Jaret did a nice job of that in the second half. He forced him out and made him take a couple dribbles, and that allowed guys like Braxton (Linville) to get a big steal for us.”
Grace won its first Crossroads League game in six tries and broke an eight-game losing streak in the process. After starting 8-1 to begin the season, Grace hadn’t won since Nov. 19 in the Hoops For Hope home tournament, and hadn’t played a home game since a Dec. 3 loss to Bethel.
Kessler is just happy to get out with a ‘W’.
“We start out 8-1 and we were playing well, but let’s face it, those weren’t Crossroads teams,” Kessler said. “We get into the conference, and man, we got exposed in a couple games. We should have had a couple wins, and let a couple get away. But this showed that we can put a team away, and this is a tough, tough Goshen team.”
Grace (9-9, 1-5 CL) will host Marian Tuesday night.