Grace’s memorable run through the 2014 NCCAA National Championships climaxed with a thrilling title game on Saturday against Point Loma Nazarene.
The Lancers nearly completed a fairly-tale run as the No. 7 seed to the championship but came up two points shy in a 75-73 defeat at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
Playing in front of a packed home court, the Lancers (20-15) almost won the game on the final play. Grace erased a five-point deficit in the final 43 seconds thanks to baskets from Caleb Featherston and Greg Miller and a free throw from Logan Irwin. Irwin’s foul shot with nine seconds left cut the Sea Lions’ lead to two points, and Grace forced PLNU into a turnover on the ensuing inbounds play.
After a timeout by head coach Jim Kessler, Irwin took the ball at the top of the key and was unable to find a lane to penetrate or pass. He took a contested 3-pointer as the clock ran out, but his shot under pressure was off the mark, allowing the Sea Lions to take the championship banner.
Greg Miller ended his sterling career with a game-high 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, including 3-of-6 from beyond the arc. For his outstanding week, Miller was named the 2014 NCCAA Tournament Most Valuable Player. Miller and Irwin were named to the NCCAA All-Tournament Team.
Brandon Vanderhegghen finished with 19 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals and 2 assists with a trio of 3-pointers, and Niko Read also buried three treys for 11 points. Caleb Featherston added 12 points and five boards, and Irwin tallied seven points and five assists.
Although the Sea Lions made over 50 percent of their field goals in each half, Grace’s active defense forced PLNU into 18 turnovers. The Lancers tallied 25 points off those turnovers to keep the game within reach of their NCAA Division II foe.
Grace held a slight lead for the majority of the opening half, going on top by as many as six points. But eight straight points from the Sea Lions down the stretch helped the visitors claim a 38-35 halftime advantage.
The Sea Lions never led by more than nine points in the second half, and the Lancers stayed within striking distance with their long-range shooting. Grace buried six 3-pointers in the final 12 minutes of the game to fire up the fan base. Grace’s final trey – a 3-pointer on the left wing from Niko Read – cut the Sea Lions’ lead to 70-68 with 2:00 on the clock. But Grace was one more 3-pointer at the buzzer away from claiming its first NCCAA basketball championship.
Coach Kessler ends the 2013-14 season with 699 career coaching victories in his legendary career. He led the Lancers to a 20-15 record and runner-up finishes in the Crossroads League Tournament and NCCAA National Championships.