A lockdown defensive effort propelled Grace’s men’s basketball team to a 62-57 upset of archrival No. 5 Bethel on Saturday.
The Lancers improved to 12-4 and 2-2 in the Crossroads League with the win and now sit one game out of first place in the CL standings.
Bethel came into Saturday’s rivalry game averaging 86.3 points per game (14th in NAIA Div. II). The Lancers held the Pilots (14-2, 2-2 CL) to 29 points below their season scoring average. The Pilots were stifled into shooting 35 percent for the game, including a 4-for-22 performance (18 percent) from the 3-point line.
Grace never trailed in the game, although the lead was never greater than 14. Niko Read buried a jumper on the first possession of the game, and Grace eased ahead early 9-4. Caleb Featherston hit two free throws to put Grace up 25-17 with 5:56 remaining in the half. But a late 7-0 spurt from Bethel allowed the Pilots to trail by just 29-26 at the halftime break.
Although Grace struggled with its shooting touch in the first half (31 percent), the Lancers dominated the Pilots on the glass. Grace had nine more rebounds and grabbed 13 offensive boards.
Bethel moved to within one point of Grace’s lead at 33-32 early in the second half, but Grace’s defense was about to take over the game. The Lancers held the Pilots to just four points over an 8:59 stretch midway into the half. Overall Grace outscored Bethel 17-4 during the game-changing run, claiming a 50-36 advantage with eight minutes to play.
The No. 5 Pilots would not go down without a fight in front of their home crowd, however. Bethel eventually trimmed Grace’s lead down to one possession at 55-52 with over two minutes remaining. Logan Irwin made a tough layup on Grace’s next play, but Bethel’s Matt Schauss responded with a 3-pointer to make the score 57-55.
With the shot clock winding down, Caleb Featherston drained a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the top of the key with 47 seconds on the clock. Niko Read then made a steal on Bethel’s next possession to send Grace to the free throw line. Read hit both foul shots to effectively secure the upset.
Irwin led Grace in scoring with 14 points to go along with six rebounds. Dennis Williams had 11 points and seven boards on 5-of-7 shooting, and Kyle Fillman scored 10.
Featherston and Chad Hoffer had eight points apiece off the bench, and Niko Read tallied 4 points, 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals. Bethel’s Schauss led all players with 19 points and 16 boards.
The Lancers will play at Spring Arbor on Tuesday at 7 p.m. Grace will then return to the MOCC for the first time in a month on Dec. 10 with a men’s and women’s doubleheader with St. Francis.