(OREM, UT) Grand Canyon flipped its recent road struggles and a low-scoring first half into a 51-point second half that overwhelmed Utah Valley for a 79-69 win on Thursday night at UCCU Center.
The Lopes hit fifth gear during a 23-6, second-half run that switched a deficit into a game that they controlled for the remainder. GCU’s backcourt led the away again with sophomore Jovan Blacksher Jr. and graduate Holland Woods II each scoring a game-high 23 points and combining for 10 assists.
But when the Lopes often need one more scorer to make their consistent defensive efforts stand up, it was graduate forward Sean Miller-Moore who benefited from the Lopes transition offense Thursday night with 19 points on 9-for-11 shooting.
GCU (17-5, 7-3 WAC) stayed in a tie in the conference standings’ loss column with third-place Sam Houston by holding Utah Valley (15-8, 6-5 WAC) to 39.7% shooting, the 15th time that the Lopes have held an opponent to 40% shooting or less this season.
GCU trailed 38-32 when Miller-Moore slammed off a Woods assist and scored on a post-up one trip later, sparking the offense into scores on eight consecutive possessions. Lopes sophomore center Aidan Igiehon earned second-half playing time and his deflection on an entry pass to Utah Valley center Fardaws Aimaq set up a Blacksher steal that led to a Woods transition 3-pointer for a 43-42 lead with 13:13 remaining. It was GCU’s first lead since 6-5.
Igiehon, who was plus-16 in six minutes, scored on a post-up on the next trip and the Lopes never trailed again with a Woods steal setting up a Miller-Moore breakaway layup on the 12-0 run.
GCU kept Aimaq, the reigning WAC Player of the Year, to 6-of-17 shooting with Lopes sophomore power forward Yvan Ouedraogo leading the defensive effort while grabbing a team-high 12 rebounds in 22 minutes.
In the second half, GCU shot 55% from the field in the second half and made 14 of 17 free throws. Woods scored 18 of his 23 points and Blacksher dropped 15 of his 23 after halftime.
The Lopes played most of the first half from behind despite taking a 4-0 lead and shutting out the Wolverines for the first two minutes.
Utah Valley went on a 13-2 run and kept the lead for the remainder of the half, as both teams struggled to shoot well from the field. The Wolverines took their largest lead of seven on three occasions, including a 28-21 edge when the Lopes were 9 of 28 from the field.
A 7-0 GCU tightened the game before halftime with Woods scoring the final five points to put Utah Valley’s lead at 30-28 at the break.
The Lopes had been more efficient with tempo and found that pace in the second half, when they shot 55% from the field and ran their points off turnovers total to 25 for the game.
GCU continues the trip with a Saturday night game at Dixie State.
Press Release courtesy of Grand Canyon University Athletics – Paul Coro