The Tigers were the last ones standing after 45 minutes of offensive superlatives in snowy Dunbar, Wisconsin Friday night. “It was like two heavyweights standing toe to toe trading roundhouse punches,” said Grace assistant coach Dan George. “The fans had a great game to watch.”
The Tigers started strong out of the gate with senior captain Matt Kurtz (Lowell) hitting a three point shot for the first score of the game to join the Tiger 1000 Point Club for his career. Grace followed that with two Kurtz free throws and three Zach Schutte (Calvin Christian) three pointers and they soon had a double digit lead that ballooned to 17 points. Kurtz added two more 3′s and senior John Oostema (Grand Rapids Christian) hit 2 from behind the arc as the Tigers were a blistering 57% on 8/14 shooting on three pointers in the first half. But the Pioneers came roaring back led by point guard Zach Mercado’s three scores from behind the arc and inside scoring from freshman Kyler Gardner and NIU had trimmed the Tiger lead to 49-41 at the half.
The Pioneers came out strong in the second half and took the lead on almost incredible shooting by Mercado. “In all my years of playing and coaching I have never seen anything like that,” said Tiger head coach Gary Bailey. “It’s not that we were playing bad defense. We had a hand in his face almost every time but he was in a zone.” Mercado finished with 41 points on 13/20 from the field including 9/12 on three pointers, including several from 25 feet or more. NIU barely missed a shot from 70 feet at the buzzer that would have won the game in regulation.
Senior Ryan Krombeen came up big in OT with a three point play and he, Oostema, and Kurtz all hit clutch free throws down the stretch as the Tigers finished strong. Five Tigers scored in double figures led by Zach Schutte with 24, Kurtz with 21, Oostema with 18, Krombeen with 16, and Cory Jamieson (Wayland) with 11. Krombeen led the Tigers with 12 rebounds. Jamieson and junior Ryan Dame (Wayland) each added 9 boards and Schutte had 8. Jamieson had 8 assists and Krombeen had 7. Dame had 3 blocked shots. The Tigers won the rebounding battle 48-34 and shot 49.3% from the field to the Pioneers’ 45.6%.
Grace moves to 19-9 and the Tigers go after win #20 on the season tomorrow afternoon in Chicago against Moody Bible Institute at 3 PM CST.