Mishawaka, Ind. – The Bethel College men's basketball team defeated their arch nemesis in Grace College to capture the 2014 Crossroads League Tournament Championship 70-65 Tuesday night. The win is the second consecutive tournament championship for the Pilots and their 18th overall Crossroads League title.
It was six years ago today (March 4, 2008) that the Pilots hosted the Lancers for the Crossroads League Tournament crown. In that contest Bethel defeated Grace 73-46 to claim the title and was also the first of five tournament championship appearances in the last seven years for the Pilots. Tonight's contest would end much differently.
In the first half Bethel set the standard on the defensive end holding the Lancers to just 36 percent shooting on 12-of-33 from the field, 33 percent from the three-point line and 25 percent from the charity stripe. Offensively the Pilots were firing on all cylinders connecting on 17-of-33 shots (52 percent) including seven three-pointers. The combination was lethal as Bethel enjoyed a 41-28 lead at the break.
Bethel continued to disrupt the Lancer offense throughout the beginning of the second half. With 11:45 remaining Bethel's Michael Mislan would score to put the Pilots up by as many as 17 points (55-38). Just when you thought Bethel was going to cruise to the finish line it was Grace's do-or-die mentality that helped put together a great run late in the game. The Lancers would outscore the Pilots from that point on 27-15 and would not go down without a fight. With 1:51 remaining in the contest Ryan Benner would draw a foul on Grace's Caleb Featherston and calmly went to the free throw line sinking both attempts giving Bethel a 65-57 lead.
The Lancers would quickly come down the floor firing up a three-pointer that was off the mark, but two offensive rebounds for Grace resulted in a trey from Niko Read bringing GC to within five (65-60). The Pilots would burn the clock on their next offensive possession, but saw Matt Schauss come up empty on a driving lay up with 41 seconds left.
Grace would then fly down the floor and score with 35 ticks left to pull to within just three (65-62). The Pilots would inbound the basketball and work it around to Miller who was fouled with 27 seconds remaining. The 6-1 junior would sink two clutch free throws extending Bethel's lead to five.
On the ensuing offensive possession for Grace the Lancers could not get a clean look at a basket resulting in a 35-foot heave from GC's Niko Read. Matt Schauss would fly out to contest the shot, but fouled Read in the act giving him three free throws. He would hit them all and Grace was down by just two (67-65) with 14 seconds left.
Another Lancer foul sent Miller to the line who again connected on both charity tosses putting the game just out of reach. A final shot from Grace would fall short resulting in a foul from Benner who went 1-of-2 from the line for the 70-65 final.
Bethel (26-7) now locks up the second automatic bid qualifying them for the NAIA D-II National Tournament in Point Lookout, Missouri. Grace falls to 18-14 on the season and will likely participate in the National Christian College Athletic Association (NCCAA) tournament hosted by the Lancers on March 19-22.
Zach Miller would continue his terrific shooting leading the way with 22 points for Bethel. Senior Ryan Benner closed out his career on the Gates Gymnasium floor contributing 13 points, eight rebounds, three assists, two blocks and a steal. Junior Matt Schauss would add 10 points, six rebounds and 6 assists while senior Michael Mislan provided the spark off the bench scoring 10 points.
Read would lead the Lancers with 15 points.
The Pilots now wait until Wednesday night to find out their next opponent when the national office releases the tournament pairings.
-Bethel has now won eight Crossroads League Tournament Championships.
-The Pilots are now 8-3 all-time in Crossroads League tournament championship games.
-Bethel and Grace have met six times in tournament history, with the Pilots winning five of the previous six.
-Bethel's all-time record as a ranked team is 444-90, including 26-7 this season.
-Landon Booker entered the Top 10 all-time in Bethel history with 187 total steals.