WINONA LAKE – The final game of head coach Jim Kessler’s career ended on a fitting note — with a win.
Grace’s men’s basketball team secured fifth place in the NCCAA National Championships with a 96-88 victory on Friday night against Columbia International.
Friday’s game was emotionally charged as the Lancers seemed determined to send Kessler out with a victory. Kessler officially wraps up his 42-year career ranked No. 28 all-time for wins among college basketball coaches with 788 victories. On Thursday, Kessler officially passed Lefty Driesell and Jim Smith on the all-time list over all divisions of men’s basketball.
Grace led from start to finish against CIU; Charlie Warner scored the first points, and he enjoyed a dominant opening half.
Warner poured in 19 points before halftime. He scored 10 points during a 3-minute outburst midway through the half, putting the Lancers ahead 32-16.
Grace’s lead swelled up to as many as 21, and the host team led 56-41 at halftime. The Lancers shot 56 percent from the floor, 67 percent on 3-pointers and 89 percent (16-of-18) from the foul line.
The Lancers (18-16) still held that 15-point lead six minutes into the second half, but the Rams erupted for eight straight points to make the score 67-60 with 11 minutes remaining.
Martin Schiele responded with a 3-pointer on the ensuing possession to slow CIU’s momentum, and the Lancers went on a 10-1 run to gain separation.
CIU made one final push over the final minutes, but their rally proved too late as Grace held on for an 8-point win. The Lancers finish the NCCAA tournament in fifth place. It was the 14th appearance in the NCCAAs in Grace program history.
Warner led all players with 27 points to go along with eight boards. He shot 9-of-14 from the floor, 4-of-5 from beyond the arc and 5-of-5 from the foul line.
Haden Deaton poured in 26 points and a game-high nine boards; he made all 10 of his free throws.
Logan Godfrey tallied 14 points to go along with four assists and four boards in his collegiate finale, and Braxton Linville added 10 points, 7 assists, 5 boards and 2 steals while making 5-of-5 from the floor.
Schiele finished with eight points and two assists, Jaret Sons tallied seven points and five boards, and Tim Swanson scored two points.
The Lancers combined to shoot 51 percent overall from the floor. Grace was particularly lethal from beyond the arc (62 percent) and from the foul line (90 percent).
Grace also owned a dominant plus-14 advantage in rebounding thanks to 11 offensive boards.
The win also ends the playing careers of graduating seniors Godfrey and Swanson.
At the conclusion of Friday’s game, Kessler was honored with a ceremony on Kessler Court. Members of Kessler’s family and current and past teams joined him on the court for a time of celebration.
“The great Lancer fans,” stated Kessler. “You are known around this league and this area, and the country. You are great fans, it’s been a great privilege to be able play in front of you, the Crazies I love. I would be certainly remiss if I didn’t thank my team. This year and all of the teams in the past. Some of the guys sitting over here.
“I get a little emotional…when I think about this year and the adventure we were on. All of the U-turns and bad turns. They razzed me about counseling. We survived them, too.
“Certainly my family, my wife of 51 years. Who would have ever thought when we came here in the spring of ’67 and look at the campus, and of course we are still here. Minus a few other places we have lived. God has been good. To my family and my four daughters, they don’t come any more crazy and loyal than these girls. I had to pull them out of referee’s rooms before. They are great fans.
“My goal has obviously been to win games, but my purpose has never been to win. My purpose, as these verses say, ‘To lead men and women, to experience Jesus and know him, and to finish it well.’ When I pass the baton to Scott (Moore), like in a race, the rule is, you pass the baton, stay in your lane, don’t trip or spike anybody, and cheer for the next leg.
“That’s where my journey is, I’m moving from that side to that side, and I’m going to be a fan and not a critic. I look forward to seeing the program move forward in able hands.