WINONA LAKE — Top-seeded Colorado Christian proved to be too much for Grace’s men’s basketball team on Thursday.
The Lancers lost in the semifinals of the NCCAA National Championships 79-72, ending Grace’s chance at a national title.
Turnovers were the Achille’s heel for Grace as it committed 17, in turn allowing 21 points off those mishaps.
“And they weren’t forced turnovers,” said Grace head coach Jim Kessler. “We were just careless.
“Honestly, I think I let them down. On our scouting we didn’t see that they zoned much and they zoned us the entire game. There were a few man possessions, but they didn’t want to deal with our inside game. We weren’t quite patient enough to maneuver the ball such a way that we could throw it inside adequately.”
The Lancers (15-19) gave the NCAA Div. II Cougars all they could handle in Thursday’s semifinal. Despite trailing by 15 at one point in the second half, Grace continued to put up a fight.
Grace started the game sharply thanks to its outside shooting. Stephen Halstead hit two three-pointers in the first four minutes, and Tre Olive hit another triple to give the Lancers a 15-9 lead.
But the Cougars’ zone defense began to slow down the Lancers; Grace mustered just six points over the next 10 minutes. CCU responded by going on a 25-6 run to take a 13-point lead.
Charlie Warner was Grace’s primary source of offense over the final portion of the first half. The freshman scored 10 points over the final 8:19 of the half, helping Grace cut its deficit to 39-29 by halftime.
The Lancers shot just 33-percent from the floor before halftime while the Cougars made 52-percent.
In the second half, Grace slowly fought back. The Cougars (18-16) scored the first five points of the half to grab a 15-point cushion at 44-29. But the Lancers were far from finished.
Olive hit back-to-back three-pointers to give the Lancers a spark, and Grace chipped away at the Cougars’ cushion.
With 8:30 to play, Grace faced an eight-point deficit. But over the next six minutes, the Lancers went on a 10-3 run. Olive scored on consecutive plays, and Logan Godfrey followed that up with baskets on the next two possessions to cut Grace’s deficit to just one at 70-69.
But the Lancers missed their next three field goals, and the Cougars responded by icing the game. CCU scored seven points on its next three possessions to go ahead by seven with 35 seconds left, and the Lancers had to settle for defeat.
Grace was efficient on the glass, winning the rebounding battle 36-32. Godfrey led all players with 13 boards for Grace, he completed the double-double by totaling 13 points.
“We out boarded them, that was one of our goals,” Kessler stated. “But the 17 turnovers and the run outs just did us in. It was more than we could overcome. We stayed with it, we put ourselves back within a possession and we had the ball. But, they (Colorado Christian) hit some big shots, they made some nice plays and that’s what seniors do.”
The Cougars had four players in double figures with Dimitri Saliba leading the way with 23 points. Ty McGee added 22 followed by Brett Brady (17 points) and Jacob Taylor (10).
Olive led Grace with 21 points and two steals, and Warner tied a career high with 16 points with four threes.
Halstead added 11 points and five assists for the Lancers, and Erik Bowen chipped in 9 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists.
Grace will play in the third-place game on Saturday at 10 a.m. against Emmanuel (Ga.). The Lions are the tournament’s No. 2 seed but were upset by Ohio Christian in Thursday’s first semifinal. Emmanuel won last year’s NCCAA title.
“They’re a really good team,” Kessler offered when asked about Emmanuel. “I was surprised that Ohio Christian beat them, but they did. We’ve got to think about how we go about that game. They aren’t as athletic as they were last year, but they are very athletic, that’s something that we lack a little. If we can get good balance, take good shots and be patient, we’ll play with them.”