WINONA LAKE, Ind. - The 24th-ranked Marian University men's basketball team emphatically completed a season sweep of the No. 5-ranked Grace College Lancers with a 70-54 road win at the Orthopaedic Capital Center on Tuesday night.
The Knights improved to 17-8 on the season and 9-6 in the Mid-Central College Conference, while the fifth-ranked Lancers fell to 20-6 on the year and 10-6 in the MCC. The Knights are now 7-1 on the season against teams ranked in the NAIA Division II Men's Basketball Coaches' Top 25 Poll.
"We played really well tonight," said 36th-year head coach John Grimes
. "We were relentless on defense and executed on offense and we played really good basketball tonight."
Junior Aaron Evans
led three Knights in double figures with a game-high 22 points, while senior Alex Sylvester
scored 21 points and senior Jake Sullivan
added 12 points. Sophomore Jake Stafford
finished with eight points and a team-high 10 boards, including four on the offensive end. Evans dished out a game-high four assists, while Sylvester and freshman Eric Harris
each had a game-high three steals.
The Knights' defensive pressure and execution on offense in the second half was the key to earning the season sweep over the Lancers.
MU opened the game on a 7-2 run before Grace answered with a 10-3 run to take a 12-10 lead early in the ballgame. The Lancers would push the lead to as high as five at 20-15 with 9:06 to go in the half, but MU would not let them pull away. Sullivan hit a three-pointer and Sylvester hit a pair of free throws to tie the score at 20-20 with 6:38 to go in the half. But, the Lancers would out-score the Knights 11-9 over the final six minutes to head into the interval with a 31-29 lead.
Grace shot a blistering 60 percent (12-for-20) in the first half, while MU could not find a rhythm on offense and was held to just 37 percent (11-for-30) in the first stanza. The second half was a much different story.
Grace senior Duke Johnson hit a pair of freebies to open the half, but Evans answered with four straight points to tie the score, 33-33, with 17:58 left in the game. After another Grace free throw, Stafford buried back-to-back jumpers to put MU up three, 37-34, with 16:25 to go in the game.
Johnson hit a short jumper to cut it back to one, 37-36, before Sullivan hit back-to-back layups and a three-pointer for a solo 7-0 run to push the lead to eight, 44-36, with 13:27 remaining. The Knights would maintain the lead before five straight points from Sylvester pushed the lead to 10 at 51-41 with 9:29 to go.
A pair of free throws cut it back to eight, 51-43, before Evans and Sullivan hit back-to-back layups to push it to 12, 55-43, with 7:12 remaining. Grace would cut back into the lead before freshman Eric Harris
drilled a three-pointer late in the shot clock to push it back to 12 at 58-46 with 4:06 to go.
That three-pointer sparked a 15-2 MU run over the next 3:16 to give MU a 22-point lead, 70-48, with just 50 seconds remaining. A pair of Grace threes late in the game cut the lead, but MU was able to hold on for a dominant 70-54 victory over the No. 5-ranked Lancers.
The Knights defense tightened down in the second half as they held the Lancers to just 27 percent (7-for-26) from the field. They also forced Grace into committing 15 turnovers and turned the ball over just eight times themselves. The Knights were also a perfect 12-for-12 from the free throw line in the game.
The No. 24-ranked Knights will play host to Taylor University in a critical MCC contest on Thursday night at the Physical Education Center. The game was re-scheduled from Saturday afternoon. The Knights are going for the season sweep of the Trojans after a 56-50 win in early January at Odle Arena.
Tip-off is slated for 7 p.m. and the game will be video-streamed LIVE at www.muknights.com
beginning at 6:55 p.m.