By Mike Deak
WINONA LAKE – Grace looked like it had everything under total control. An 18-point lead in the second half, an entirely partisan crowd of about 10 rooting it on, and Shawnee State’s EJ Onu on the bench with five fouls.
Then something happened. Youth and experience simultaneously happened.
Grace’s young and inexperienced roster found itself watching a senior-laden Shawnee side shoot itself back into the game, force overtime, then pull away for a 99-94 win Friday night at a hollow Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
In what was supposed to have been the Saturday showcase game between Grace and a nationally-ranked Bears team, the contest was moved up to Friday afternoon in what became the only matchup of an abbreviated Hoops For Hope series hosted by the Lancers. Both women’s games were canceled due to COVID issues in the Grace program, and the Saturday men’s game against Madonna was also scrubbed.
Also erased were the fans, which the stands had no more than 10 Grace staffers and video personnel. But a full Grace cheer squad kept the mood, one which Grace felt very good about itself for about the first 36 minutes of the game, only to have to make free throws in the final minute just to force overtime.
Grace led by as much as 18 points in the second half, and the lead didn’t dip under double digits until 9:35 to go when James Jones hit a three. The Lancers later pushed it to 12, 76-64, only for the Bears to make their run. A 7-0 Shawnee spurt cut the lead to five, but after Onu picked up his fifth foul, along with a bench tech, Grace pushed the score to 81-73.
That would be the last comfortable moment Grace would have.
Dakota Pritchard would hit a three, then after an empty Grace possession, Donoven Carlisle put a miss back in to suddenly cut the lead to three. Grace’s inexperience in pressure situations began to show, as it would commit two turnovers and miss two open shots as the Bears would use another three from Pritchard and a bucket from Jones to take a shocking 83-81 lead.
“You start seeing the ball go in the basket and it changes your perspective,” said Grace College head coach Scott Moore. “They got going a little bit, hit six threes in the second half, and they hit shots and got confident. In the second half, we didn’t do a good job fighting down on EJ. We were a little lazy on some closeouts and we lost track of (Pritchard), and he hit a couple huge threes for them to get back in it.”
Grace’s Cade Gibbs would get to the line and sink both free throws with 24 seconds left as overtime loomed, the score tied at 83.
Pritchard would drill his sixth three-pointer of the night to open the extra frame, and the Bears would score the first seven points as the Lancers ran out of gas.
“We were on our heels at the end of regulation and the start of overtime, and we forgot about what got us there,” Moore said. “In a one-possession-type game, one rebound here or one missed free throw there matters. But when we have three turnovers and can’t get up a shot, that will kill you against good teams like Shawnee.”
Pritchard was 6-8 from deep and finished with 26 points and added 11 rebounds and four assists. Jones was the high man for the Bears, recording 33 points and seven boards. Onu, an NAIA All-American last season, had 11 points, five boards and seven blocks, doing so after playing less than seven minutes in the first half saddled in foul trouble.
Carlisle chipped in 15 points and eight boards.
Haden Deaton led a quintet of Lancers in double figures with 21 points. Gibbs had 18 points and six rebounds, Matt Jennings added 16 points and six assists, Frankie Davidson had 14 points, five rebounds and four assists, and Elijah Malone came off the bench to add a little spark in the paint with 12 points, which he stepped out and hit a triple to keep the Bears defense honest.
“You have to point out that this is an extremely young team, and they are still learning how to win,” noted Moore. “It takes time to learn that, and Shawnee is a good team to get that type of experience.”
Grace (3-1) is next scheduled to play at home on Nov. 21 against Taylor in Crossroads League play.