POINT LOOKOUT, Mo. - Talking about his team's first-round opponent in the 18th annual NAIA Division II Men's Basketball National Tournament, Grace College coach Jim Kessler said Warner Pacific is more athletic than his Lancers.

Kessler believes the Lancers, however, are a better basketball team.
"They're a little quicker and they're more of an athletic team," Kessler said of the Knights, who Grace will play Thursday at 1:45 p.m. CST at Keeter Gymnasium on the campus of College of the Ozarks near Branson, Mo. "But I think we're a better basketball team. I like our chances."

Warner Pacific, a school in Portland, Oregon, received an at-large bid to the 32-team, single-elimination tournament. The Knights were ranked 15th in the final NAIA poll and sport a 21-8 record.

The Lancers, who advanced to the Elite Eight of the tournament last year, received an at-large bid after being ranked 20th in the final poll and take a record of 20-10 into tournament play.

When the Lancers and Knights square off Thursday afternoon, it will showcase discipline and structured offense against a fast-paced, run-and-gun style of play.

"We've got one tape on them, and it was well into the first half before we saw them run their first half-court set," Kessler said of the Knights. "They get up and down the court and their mentality is 'if I'm open I'm gonna shoot, if you're open I'll pass it and you shoot.'"

Kessler described Warner Pacific's style as a "true junior college style of play."

Of the 15 players on the Knights' roster, 12 of them are transfers.

"They're an interesting team in that they have so many transfers," said Kessler. "They play a true junior college style. They run the court and try to get quick hoops every possession."

Kessler said he likes his chances because his team has played well against other teams that play the same style of basketball.

On Dec. 19, the Lancers played Lake Erie at the Malone Tournament. Grace won that game 102-95 in triple overtime.

In another fast-paced, high scoring game on Dec. 31, the Lancers beat Indiana Tech 104-71.

Indiana Tech entered that game ranked eighth in the nation.

"If you look back at the teams we've played that play that style, like Indiana Tech and Lake Erie, we've traditionally played well against those teams. I like our chances. We need to play our game and stay focused and play as a team."

Warner Pacific averages 80 points per game and has made 218 three-pointers this season. The Knights give up an average of 74 points per contest.

Adam Moore, a 6-foot-7 senior, leads Warner Pacific with 21 points per game, while Kaylone Riley (6-8 Jr.) averages 11 points and nearly four blocked shots per contest.

Kenen Dizdrevic (5-9 Jr.) averages 11 points per game for the Knights, while Jake Glison (6-6 Jr.) chips in with 10 points per game.

Riley leads the nation in blocks with 105 this season. As a team, the Lancers have blocked 106 shots.

For Grace, 6-11 senior Eric Gaff averages 21 points per game and 12 rebounds per game.

Gaff leads the nation in rebounding and is among the nation's leaders in double-doubles.

Senior Michael Wienhorst, a Warsaw Community High School product, and junior David Swanson chip in with nearly 14 points per game each.

The Lancers average 78 points per contest and have made 149 three-pointers this season.

Wienhorst has hit a team-best 52 three-pointers, while sophomore David Henry has converted 51 three-point attempts.

While Thursday's contest features two of the best big men in the country in Riley and Gaff, Kessler said the key to Grace's success will be guard play.

"For us to play well, we've got to have consistent guard play," said Kessler.

Henry leads the Lancers with 122 assists this season, while former Plymouth High School player Kyle Plumlee has dished out 112 assists.

If the Lancers win Thursday, they will play at 1:45 p.m. CST Friday against the winner of Thursday's game between fourth-ranked Walsh (27-3) and Ottawa (18-13).

"We did have some success in the tournament last year," said Kessler, whose Lancers won the first two games before falling to eventual national champion Oregon Tech. "We've almost replicated everything we did last year, right down to the pre-game meal. We're going to try and stay in a routine and be as consistent as possible. We even stopped and ate at the same restaurant in Effingham, Illinois on the way down here."

The Lancers left town Sunday and spent the night in St. Louis, where they were able to practice at Maryville College.

"We got in a good two-hour practice in St. Louis," said Kessler. "The guys are excited and they're ready to play. After we got beat in the conference tournament by Huntington, we had to sit and wait to see if we got into the national tournament. Now the guys are excited again, and I think they know they have to play with a purpose."

Also representing the Mid-Central conference in the national tournament are second-ranked Bethel (30-3) and sixth-ranked Indiana Wesleyan (27-6).

"Our conference was rated the toughest in the country," said Kessler. "The MCC traditionally represents itself very well in the national tournament. Our conference schedule certainly helped prepare us to play down here."