Nov. 30—Grace Christian's men's basketball team is already recognized as one of the top teams in the NCISAA 1A ranks, but the Crusaders have their eyes on all the marbles this winter.
They're getting ready by playing the toughest teams they can find to step on the court with them.
Grace spent the weekend competing in the annual Bull City Classic, held at Mount Zion Christian Academy in Durham. Mount Zion, the alma mater of NBA stars Tracy McGrady and Amare Stoudemire, hosted the event as a showcase for several private schools with college-level prospects on Friday and Saturday. The Crusaders suffered their first loss of the season on Friday night, but bounced back with a 53-point wipeout victory on Saturday.
Grace Christian (5-1) played Rock Creek Christian, a school based in Upper Marlboro, Md., on Friday. Rock Creek is one of the top 10 teams in Maryland regardless of classification, and the Eagles showed their stuff in Saturday's championship game by stunning host Mount Zion. On Friday night, the Crusaders took their swing at Rock Creek, a team with three starters 6'6" or taller and two 6'4" guards, and lost 78-58.
The game started out at a fast pace that might have favored Grace, but the Eagles were burning up the nets and dominating the glass in a first quarter that ended with them ahead by a remarkable 32-25 score. The Crusaders held their own in the second quarter and were very much in the game at this point, down just 52-46. The game remained competitive until late, but the physicality of the Rock Creek team took its toll late. Grace scored just two points in the fourth quarter as the Marylanders pulled away.
Ronnie Davis, one of the big guards for Rock Creek, led his team with 22 points. For Grace, Ma'kyi Butler led the way with 19, and backcourt mate Jesse Mitchell added 18.
The loss didn't get the Crusaders down, though. They still had one more game to play and took on North Hills Christian, a team out of Salisbury, right after lunchtime on Saturday afternoon. North Hills, also known as the Eagles, was coming off a 34-point win in its last outing before the Bull City Classic, but was overmatched by the teams it faced in the BCC. Grace had a 41-3 run bridging the first and second halves of the game, and won easily, 84-31.
The Crusaders realized early on that they were both quicker and more physical than this set of Eagles, and dialed up a 1-2-2 trapping defense that picked up on North Hills' end of the court. Grace had the edge from the start, but the score was just 17-9 in the Crusaders' favor when things really started going south for the Eagles. It began with Kaleb Smith swishing a 3-pointer from the top of the key with 8:37 left in the first half. Smith then tacked on three more when Giulio Chan led him on a fastbreak for an and-one layup. Jimmy Zimmerman drove the baseline for a jumper and a 25-9 lead. Grace kept pouring it on. Butler stole the ball in the backcourt and then scored on a scoop shot, and Sayvion Ellis drove it to the basket for two more. By the time the half came, the Crusaders' lead was 44-11 and they were on a 27-2 run. The second half would start with a 14-1 spree before a 3-pointer by North Hills' Nick Colson ended the bleeding. By that time, they had already forced a running clock at 14:45 of the half, when the score was 51-11.
Grace continued to extend its lead no matter who was on the court, and all nine Crusaders who made the trip got into the scorebook. A highlight came when Butler drove into the lane against three defenders, got bumped and turned around, literally releasing a shot with his back to the basket. It went in. It was that sort of afternoon for Grace and a fine way to end the weekend.
Butler and Smith led the team with 15 points each. The Crusaders, who shot 57% from the field, got 12 from Mitchell and 11 from Rarquan Simmons.
Smith and Ellis tied for the team lead with six rebounds.
The Crusaders traveled to New Life Christian on Monday night in a game that ended after press time. They host Fayetteville Christian tonight in what will be a doubleheader with the unbeaten Grace women.