Senior Frankie Davidson of Grace drives to the basket around Columbia International's Jaylon Jeter during Tuesday night's NAIA opening-round game. Photos by Gary Nieter
Senior Frankie Davidson of Grace drives to the basket around Columbia International's Jaylon Jeter during Tuesday night's NAIA opening-round game. Photos by Gary Nieter
WINONA LAKE – Hosting an NAIA Tournament game for the first time in program history, the Grace Lancers men’s basketball team more than proved it belonged in the national tournament with a dominant 101-72 victory over the 16-seeded Columbia International Rams.

The twin sophomores Jakub and Cade Gibbs took turns dominating the game, with Jakob scoring a majority of his team-high 22 points in the first half before passing the torch to Cade, who did most of his damage (14 points) in the second. The Gibbs brothers were two of five Lancers that finished the game in double figures scoring.

“It feels really good when I get it going like this, all the credit to my teammates for finding me in my spots and letting me go to work, we capitalized on a lot of them,” Jakob Gibbs said after the game.”

The top-seeded Lancers wasted no time showing off why they were selected for the slot. Grace used its lightning-quick offense to score the first eight points of the game, putting the 16-seeded Rams in an early hole the team would have to fight and claw to get out of. However, Columbia International was up to the challenge, answering with a scoring surge of their own and chipping away at the lead.

If the first 10 minutes of the game were played without a shot clock, not many in attendance would notice. Players on both sides wasted little time finding a comfortable spot on the floor to shoot the ball from, often being rewarded for their urgency with made shots. Points started piling up in a hurry as the one-seeded Lancers held off a strong attack from the Rams, remaining on top.

All season long, Grace has prided itself on having a different guy stepping up on any given night. On this night, it seemed as if the whole team got the message to step up. Junior Elijah Malone (14 points) used a massive size advantage to bully Rams’ defenders in the paint to get whatever he wanted. Sophomore Carter Stolzfus (nine points on three threes) was lights out from distance, hitting every open three that came his way. Fellow underclassman Jakob Gibbs was a beast on the boards, creating more than a handful of extra possessions for the Lancers to take advantage of.

“There’s not a single guy on this team that can’t put on the floor because of their scoring ability,” Lancers head coach Scott Moore said. “When we take care of the basketball and play our offense we can score with the best of them.”

Despite players of all shapes and sizes contributing to the Grace juggernaut, Columbia International was able to create enough havoc on the defensive end to use the turnover battle to their advantage. With eight minutes remaining in the first half, the Lancers were holding onto a seven-point lead.

“At this point, everybody you play is going to be good,” Moore said. “Anything can happen and we’re going to get everybody’s best shot like we have all season long. Nothing’s going to change now.”

Following the media timeout around the seven-minute mark of the half, Grace showed once again why it was awarded the top seed in its region. A massive onslaught from the Lancers that spanned the rest of the half saw every player on the court at any given time contributing and helping to add to the lead, which ballooned to over 20 at times. When the dust settled, Grace held a 19-point advantage with 20 minutes to go.

The Rams, fighting for their season for dear life, got a good burst to begin the second half and used a short run to shrink the Lancer lead down to 12 points, the closest the game would be for the remainder of the contest.

Right on cue, Cade Gibbs would begin his takeover of the game. Sharing a similar playstyle to his brother, Cade was relentless on both ends of the floor, going coast to coast after a couple of big rebounds to extend his team’s lead as well climb up the scoring leaderboard.

“It’s awesome playing with my brother, sometimes I have to keep him under control a little bit when he gets too fired up,” Gibbs said, laughing. “When he’s locked in, he’s a beast.”

The avalanche continued for a few more minutes, in which Grace was able to extend its lead to nearly 30 points. Each time the game got into the range of a complete blowout, the Rams would show fight and shrink the lead back down a bit once more.

With the game all but decided and the only thing left to determine being the final score, fans in attendance began to shift their attention to something else. Sitting at 90 points with a little under five minutes remaining, the Lancer faithful began to make it known they wanted their team to reach 100. Their wishes were granted, as sophomore Alex Darnell hit a three-pointer with under a minute remaining to give Grace its final total of 101 points. The made shot received one of the loudest ovations of the night.

It’s a quick turnaround for the Lancers, as the team is back in action at 6 p.m. once again Wednesday night for their Round-of-32 matchup with either Olivet Nazarene or Madonna. The winner of Wednesday’s game will punch its ticket to Kansas City, where the remainder of the NAIA tournament will be played.

“Rinse and repeat,” Moore said. “We know we’re going to play a good team so it’s about focusing on us and making sure we’re ready to compete at the highest level.”