Grace College coach Jim Kessler applauds his players during Friday night's game. Photo by Josh Neuhart
Grace College coach Jim Kessler applauds his players during Friday night's game. Photo by Josh Neuhart
WINONA LAKE – Sitting in a leather chair in the Grace College men’s basketball team room, his brother by his side, veteran coach Jim Kessler humbly shrugged off the fact that he just recorded the 750th win of his NAIA Hall of Fame career.
Kessler was more interested in talking about his players, and there was certainly plenty to say after Friday night’s 113-90 win over Grace Bible College at the Manahan Orthopaedic Capital Center.
In the semifinal round of the annual Officer Terry Polston Hoops For Tournament, Grace College junior Stephen Halstead made 11 three-pointers en route to a game-high 35 points, breaking his own school record of 10 treys set last season, as the Lancers improved to 7-1 on the season.
Freshman point guard Braxton Linville dished out 10 assists in the first half and finished the game with 13, just three off the school record shared by Neal Frantz (1983) and Jerry Ryman (1968).
Junior Erik Bowen finished with a double-double of 14 points and 16 rebounds.
Freshman Jaret Sons scored 17 points, while junior Chad Hoffer chipped in with 14 points and four assists, and sophomore Logan Godfrey added 13 points and seven boards.
After graduating four starters from last year’s team, the Lancers are a different team, and they’re a young team.
They’re also very talented and unselfish, as evidenced by the 31 assists in Friday’s game, and the fact Grace shot 57 percent from the field overall, 19 of 31 from the arc, and 20 of 27 from the free throw line.
“It was a good team effort all the way around,” said Kessler, now in his 40th season with the Lancers. “I thought we had potential. I knew if we could solve the defensive effort we could do some things. This is a very different team. We’ve put 100 points on the board a couple times already ... we’ve got guys who can shoot. Their idea of defense is ‘how do we get the ball back so we can shoot it?’ If we rebound and run the floor we can play with most people.”
The Lancers outrebounded the Tigers 40-31, and held Grace Bible College to a 34-of-78 shooting effort from the field overall, 12 of 29 from the arc.
“Youth has a personality, and we’re just trying to find that personality,” said Kessler. “Our goal is to wear teams down in the last five minutes, and I think we did that.”
The Lancers led 55-44 at halftime and really put the game away over the last seven minutes of action.
Halstead made his 10th three-pointer with 4:10 remaining in the game, giving the Lancers a 98-79 lead.
His 11th trey, which hit the iron, bounced up and then fell through the net, came with 2:28 to play.
“We don’t think of him as if she’s shooting that much better, because that’s what he does all the time,” Kessler said of Halstead, who is now 39 of 64 from the arc through eight games. “He’s just been lighting it up in practice. He’s playing with a lot of confidence right now. He’s a great shooter.”
Prior to Friday night, Halstead was third in the nation among NAIA Div. II players with 28 made three-pointers this season. Ben Grandle of Multnomah College (Oregon) was the national leader with 35 going into the weekend.
Jared Bradford led Grace Bible College with 26 points in the loss, while Bernard Smith and Adam Kregel scored 11 points each.
The Lancers will play No. 23 Rochester College in today’s 4 p.m. championship game, while Grace Bible College and Lincoln Christian will play in the consolation game at noon.
Rochester College improved to 10-0 Friday night with a 93-55 win over Lincoln Christian in the first semifinal.

GB    44    46    –    90
GC    55    58    –    113
GB – Matt Jensen 1-4 0-0 3, Austin Jackson 2-10 2-2 6, Grant Garrison 1-3 0-0 3, Bernard Smith 4-6 3-4 11, Jared Bradford 11-19 2-2 26, Joe Dekkenga 1-4 0-0 2, Adam Rayner 2-4 2-4 6, Caleb Anderson 2-7 0-0 6, Brandon Winchester-Jones 2-5 0-0 5, Adam Kregel 4-6 0-0 11, Josiah Brown 3-6 1-1 8, Marcus Chandler 1-4 0-0 3. Totals 34-78 10-13 90.
GC – Logan Godfrey 4-9 5-7 13, Erik Bowen 4-7 6-6 14, Braxton Linville 2-5 0-0 5, Stephen Halstead 11-17 2-2 35, Chad Hoffer 5-9 4-5 14, John Swanson 0-1 0-0 0, David Holden 0-0 1-2 1, Tim Swanson 2-4 0-0 6, Charlie Warner 3-5 0-1 8, Jaret Sons 6-8 2-4 17. Totals 37-65 20-27 113.
Three-pointers – GB 12 (Kregel 3, Bradford 2, Anderson 2), GC 19 (Halstead 11, Sons 3, Warner 2, T. Swanson 2, Linville); Rebounds – GB 31 (Smith 7), GC 40 (Bowen 16); Turnovers – GB 13, GC 12; Assists – GB 18 (Garrison 4, Bradford 4), GC 31 (Linville 13); Fouls – GB 18, GC 16.