The Grand Canyon University men's basketball team won, 57-54, over California Baptist tonight in a Pacific West Conference matchup at GCU Arena. With the win, the Antelopes improved to 17-4 overall and 8-2 in the conference, while the Lancers fell to 9-6 overall and 3-4 in conference play.
The win preserved GCU's perfect mark at home as they improved to 13-0 this season and 28-1 all-time at GCU Arena. Tonight's contest also drew a season-high 3,341 fans.
"It is unbelievable the emotion and enthusiasm that a crowd brings," said head coach Russ Pennell. "In a close game like this, you live and die on every basket or free throw and the crowd was outstanding. I hope that it is a snapshot of things to come. These kids deserve to play in front of that. Sometimes we don't click as much offensively as we would like, but our tenacity on defense is starting to be recognized and the crowd enhances that. I thought they were great tonight."
Similar to the contest in Riverside, the game went down to the wire. There were five tied scores and seven lead changes. GCU shot 36.0 percent from the field (18-for-50), while the Lancers posted a slightly better mark at 38.9 percent (21-for-54). The ‘Lopes were strong on the boards, pulling down 45 rebounds compared to 32 for the Lancers.
GCU was led by Joshua Lowery with a game-high 20 points, while Killian Larson had 12 points and Justin Foreman added 10 points. The game was a defensive battle from the start as the two teams combined for 23 points halfway through the first half. GCU then used a 9-0 run spanning nearly four minutes to build a 21-11 advantage at the 6:18 mark, their largest of the first half. CBU narrowly outscored the ‘Lopes, 8-7, for the remainder of the half as GCU was able to carry a 27-19 lead into the locker room.
The ‘Lopes shot 41.7 percent (10-for-24) in the first 20 minutes and were led by Larson with nine points, while Braylon Pickrel added eight first-half points. CBU was held to a 33.3 percent mark (8-for-24) from the field. The two squads were matched evenly with 12 points in the paint, while GCU scored seven points nine Lancers turnovers. The ‘Lopes also outrebounded the Lancers, 21-15.
GCU opened the second half by shooting 1-for-15 from the field, but shot 7-for-11 for the remainder of the game. Conversely, the Lancers came out firing, making it a one-point contest, 31-30, via an 11-4 run over the first six minutes of the half. CBU knotted the score at 31 just one minute later and took the 34-31 lead via a three-point play conversion at the 12:35 mark.
"I thought during the first part of the second half, we were taking quick shots and rushing things," said Pennell. "It was difficult getting them to reverse the ball, but once we started doing that, things were fine. In the meantime, CBU got back in the game."
The Lancers extended their advantage to 38-31 over the next minute and a half before GCU used a 10-2 run of their own to reclaim the 41-40 lead with 8:30 on the clock. In total beginning at the 11:40 mark of the second until taking a 48-42 lead with the clock at 4:56, GCU outscored the Lancers 17-6 as they mounted their comeback.
GCU built their lead to nine points, 53-44, over the next three minutes, but the Lancers rallied for five unanswered point to make it a four-point contest, 53-49, with one minute remaining. Forced to foul, Steve Morin drained one of two free throws, but the Lancers drained a three-pointer just a few seconds later to make it a single possession game, 54-52, with 23.8 seconds to play.
Lowery made two free throws to put GCU back up by four points with 16 seconds on the clock; however, CBU ran down the court and made a layup to cut that lead in half with 4.1 seconds remaining. Lowery made another trip to the free throw at the 3.4 second mark and made one of two to seal the win.
"You hope that your point guard can be your take over guy in the end and Joshua has stepped in that role unbelievably well," added Pennell. "He has the ultimate confidence in himself, and with his big strong body, he can make big shots. In clutch times he thinks it's his time and we are fine with putting the ball in his hands."
GCU will conclude this four-game home stretch when they host Dixie State on Saturday, Feb. 2 at 6:30 p.m. in GCU Arena. Fans can follow the action live by visiting www.gculopes.com.
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