A CBU program-record barrage of 19 3-pointers did not match the best Grand Canyon offensive performance of its Division I era. The Lopes recorded GCU Division I records for scoring in a regulation game and shooting percentage to beat the Lancers 103-98 at CBU Events Center.
GCU (10-13, 5-4 WAC) stayed in position for the WAC Tournament No. 2 seed by making 62.7% of its shots to win on the road for the fourth time in its past five tries. The Lopes were resilient, surviving their foul trouble and CBU’s 3-pointers to keep the lead for the final 33 minutes of the game.
“We were able to really withstand it,” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said. “I was proud of the guys. We really moved the basketball (16 assists to eight turnovers). It’s what we’ve been working on. It’s one thing I put on the board today: we have to have that transfer from practice to game. If we continue to do that, we’ve got a chance. I’ve always believed in this team. If they play like that, we can win some games. They just have to play for each other.”
Only four other road teams have shot that well against a Division I opponent this season and only four other road teams have scored that much in regulation against a D-I opponent this season. Only Samford also did both.
The Lopes’ game plan nearly went in the shredder after three minutes when leading scorer Alessandro Lever picked up his second foul after 3:08 of play. But the sharp passing, off-ball movement and inside-out emphasis maintained with 6-foot-7 senior Lorenzo Jenkinsstepping in for Lever at center with his best game of the season.
Jenkins, a graduate transfer from Colorado State, scored 17 points in the first half on 6-of-9 shooting to more than make up for Lever’s absence.
“We knew we all had to step up and carry the scoring load, and not just the scoring load, but down low we had to gang-rebound as a team because we were a lot smaller,” said Jenkins, who finished with a career-high tying 20 points and now has posted eight of his top 12 career scoring performances in one GCU season.
Jenkins hit his first three shots, including a pair of 3-pointers that erased CBU’s last lead of the game for a 21-16 edge. Jenkins then went into the post to score off post-ups, cuts and drawing fouls but the lead remained tight until GCU senior Carlos Johnson went on a late first-half tear.
Johnson only had attempted one field goal before he also connected on back-to-back 3s, sparking a run of Johnson scoring 10 consecutive GCU points and 12 of the team’s last 14 in the first half.
Johnson did not miss a shot in the game, scoring a team-high 25 points by going 6 for 6 overall with four 3-pointers and 9-for-11 shooting on free throws. He left the arena wearing one of CBU’s “BEAT GCU” shirts.
“If we move the basketball and then he attacks off closeouts, that’s when he’s better,” Majerle said of Johnson. “He’s a strong kid. He gets to the free throw line 11 times. He doesn’t have to rely on that 3. He was hot today but when he slows down and takes what the game gives him, he’s a better player.”
Johnson’s run gave the Lopes their largest lead at 50-36 before the half ended on three CBU free throws.
The Lancers kept cutting into the lead by making their first six 3-point shots of the second half. With Lever back in the mix, GCU’s offense was able to stave off the first CBU surge and build the lead back up when junior guard Mikey Dixon (24 points on 8-of-10 shooting) turned torrid in the second half.
The Lopes were managing foul trouble with Johnson, freshman point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. and junior guard Isiah Brown in the second half but shuffled personnel well enough to keep the Lancers at bay.
CBU made its best late-game threat when its junior guard Milan Acquaah, who scored 30, drove for a layup to cut GCU’s lead to 92-88 with 2:25 to go.
Dixon made the clutchest play of the game, when he rebounded his own missed 3 and scored on a drive for a 94-88 lead with 1:45 remaining. From there, the Lopes made 9 of 12 free throws in the final 1:30 to close out the win and hush a sold-out crowd.
It was GCU’s second consecutive game in which the opponent sold out its venue. This was different with the game-day experience replicating much of what GCU Arena offers and the Lopes wanting to make amends for its worst shooting night of the season (33.8%) in a home loss to CBU.
“I’m just proud of everybody,” Majerle said. “I’m really happy. This is a big game.
“I told the guys after the game, ‘When we play like this, there’s not a team that I wouldn’t put you up against.’ But we’ve just got to continue to play that way.”
The Lopes have put themselves in position for the No. 2 seed by being tied with Seattle U, which they beat in the first meeting, and having five of their last seven regular-season games at home before the WAC Tournament. The Lopes return home this week to face Kansas City and Chicago State, which they beat on the road last month.
“Getting to the second half of conference play, it’s about locking in,” Jenkins said. “Paying attention to the defensive rotations and the adjustments that we need to make. We are really taking practice serious and translating it to the floor and the game.”
Article courtesy of Paul Coro