Lancers Claim Crossroads League Championship in Thriller
The 2022 Crossroads League Tournament championship turned into an instant classic on Tuesday night.
Grace’s men’s basketball came out victorious in a thriller, battling to an 86-85 victory over No. 12 Marian.
The Lancers won their first conference tournament championship since 2012. As a result, the Lancers secured an automatic bid to the NAIA National Championships. The NAIA Opening Round will be held next weekend with the bracket and game locations to be released this week on Thursday.
Grace is the lowest team to ever win the men’s basketball tournament championship. The fifth-seeded Lancers had to travel on the road for three straight games, including an 82-62 win at Mt. Vernon Nazarene in the quarterfinals, 84-76 semifinal victory at No. 7 Indiana Wesleyan as well as Tuesday’s one-point championship win at No. 12 Marian.
The Lancers won the game with a complete team effort. Seven Lancers scored at least nine points with Frankie Davidson and Elijah Malone sharing scoring honors with 15 points apiece.
Grace proved hard to handle in the post, scoring 42 points in the paint and earning a dominant 39-23 advantage in rebounds.
Marian was efficient as usual on offense, shooting 53 percent from the floor, 45 percent on 3-pointers and committing just two turnovers.
But the Lancers made a few key defensive stops in the closing minutes, and Davidson and Malone provided the needed scoring down the stretch.
In the opening seconds of the game, Jakob Gibbs gave Grace the lead with a 3-pointer. Grace’s lead grew to 6-1 after a thunderous two-handed slam by Elijah Malone.
Marian needed nearly three minutes of action before making a field goal.
Another slam by Malone gave Grace an 8-3 edge. Marian responded with eight straight points to charge in front, sparked by a pair of 3-pointers.
Grace remained behind for the next several minutes, but the Lancers were unfazed. Brycen Graber was a key sub off the bench, helping stabilize Grace on the offensive end with five points and several key passes.
The Lancers manufactured a run of their own, and back-to-back triples from Graber and Carter Stolzfus put the Lancers on top 29-26 to force a Marian timeout.
An and-1 by Frankie Davidson gave Grace a 35-31 lead with less than four minutes remaining.
But the Knights erupted down the stretch with a trio of 3-pointers, pulling ahead late.
Ian Scott made a tip-in layup in the final seconds, but Grace still trailed 44-41 at halftime.
Both teams shot over 50 percent from the floor before halftime, and Marian was electric from 3-point land (6 of 11).
Grace had a massive edge in rebounds (21-13) but an equally large disadvantage in turnovers (7-1).
Nine players registered a point for Grace in the half, led by eight points from Jakob Gibbs.
The Lancers seized control of the game with a pivotal run to begin the second half. Grace started the half on a 17-7 charge over the first six minutes.
Davidson dazzled to six quick points, Jakob Gibbs scored four more, and Malone threw down another emphatic dunk. A triple from Stoltzfus lifted Grace to a 58-51 lead.
The Lancers continued to roll. Cade Gibbs scored back-to-back buckets, including a fast break dunk, and another 3-pointer from Stoltzfus gave Grace an 11-point lead at 70-59 with 10 minutes to play.
Marian countered with seven straight points, cutting the cushion to four with 7:56 on the clock.
Davidson converted a tough layup to send the Lancer faithful into euphoria, but Marian did not flinch. Marian scored eight unanswered points to regain the lead at 79-78 with 3:35 on the clock.
After a Grace timeout, Jakob Gibbs was fouled and sank two free throws to regain the lead.
Marian scored again to go up by one, but Malone muscled his way to an and-1, beating a double team in the process to put the Lancers ahead 83-81 with two minutes to play.
After a defensive stop by Grace, Davidson broke down a defender and swished a 3-pointer that gave Grace an 86-81 edge with 1:36 to play.
That proved to be Grace’s last points, putting the fate of the game on the shoulders of Grace’s defense. Marian scored four quick points to put pressure on Grace.
Both teams came up empty on the next possessions, and Marian fouled Grace to extend the game. Grace missed the front-end of a bonus free throw, allowing Marian 4.7 seconds to set up a potential game winner.
The Knights had an attempt at the buzzer, but a driving shot near the hoop was blocked by Cade Gibbs to secure the victory.
The team spilled out onto the court in celebration, claiming the tournament banner, trophy and nets in the postgame festivities.
“The league we play in is a gauntlet. Every single night you have to show up. We had success early in the year, experienced some ups and downs during the year and continued to show fight late in the season,” said Grace head coach Scott Moore. “Every time this team has faced obstacles, they continue to battle through. This was great preparation for us as we get ready for another hopeful run in the national tournament.”
Davidson finished with 15 points and five boards, and Malone tallied 15 points and five boards.
Jakob Gibbs tallied 14 points, 5 rebounds and 2 assists, and Graber amassed 11 points while making all three of his 3-pointers.
Stoltzfus canned a trio of triples, and Cade Gibbs added 9 points, 6 boards, 4 assists and 1 game-saving block.
Ian Scott tallied 4 points, 7 boards, 3 assists, 2 blocks and 1 steal, and Jake Wadding had six points and three boards, and Eddie Gill IV added 3 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
The Lancers shot 59 percent overall from the floor, 59 percent on 3-pointers and 59 percent on free throws.