Grace Christian wins NCCAA national title

Published 10:01 am Thursday, March 14, 2019

GREENVILLE, S.C. — The Grace Christian University Tigers are the NCCAA Divison II national champions.

The Tigers defeated Great Lakes Christian College 84-83 in what many are calling one of the greatest championship games of all time.

Grace Christian faced a familiar opponent in No. 4-seeded Great Lakes Christian College, the first time ever two Michigan teams have faced off in the NCCAA national tournament. The two teams split during the regular season, with the Tigers winning at Little Caesars Arena in Detroit and the Crusaders prevailing on their home court.

The Tigers were cruising along through the first 33 minutes of the game, as they led by as many as 25 points and held a comfortable 69-51 lead with less than seven minutes remaining in the game. 

At this point, the Crusaders started to chip away the deficit quickly, with high-pressure defense and high-powered offense.

In seemingly the blink of an eye, Great Lake Christian went on a 12-0 run to trim the Tigers’ lead to 69-63. The Tigers never surrendered the lead, but the Crusaders would cut it to three points (75-72) with 15 seconds remaining.

A missed free throw by the Tigers would be followed by a huge 3-point shot by the Crusaders with under a second to go to tie things up at 75-75 and force overtime.

The Tigers got the first bucket of the extra period, and the two teams would trade baskets a couple of times, before Great Lakes scored with 25 seconds to go to take an 83-81 lead.

And then, it happened.    

After running 20 seconds off the clock, freshman Kellum Bridgeforth received the ball on the left wing with 5.5 seconds left, used a jab step to freeze his defender and rose up for a 3-point shot that was nothing but net. 

Down 84-83, Great Lakes took the ball the length of the court, but could not get a shot off before the buzzer. 

Bridgeforth finished with a career-high 21 points and seven rebounds en route to earning the Most Valuable Player award. Junior Brandon Winchester-Jones, of Dowagiac, added 18 points, five assists and four rebounds, while junior Adam Kregel pitched in 14 points and pulled down eight rebounds. 

Senior Bernard Smith capped off his career at Grace with all-tournament honors.

Dowagiac junior Keoante Blackamore played 12 minutes, scoring five points to go along with three rebounds, a block and a steal.