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GCU Club Men’s Basketball’s bid for nationals falls short

March 25, 2018

Lopes held to one point over last 3 minutes as Arizona State wins NCBBA SoPac Regional title

By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director

In a nip-and-tuck battle that never saw more than an eight-point lead for either team, the top-seeded Grand Canyon University Club Basketball Purple team was held without a field goal for the final three minutes of the game, and lost to 3rd-seeded Arizona State University, 67-61, in the finals of the 2018 National Club Basketball Association (NCBBA) Southern Pacific (SoPac) Regional Championships Sunday morning at Antelope Gym on the GCU campus. The win earned ASU an automatic berth in the NCBBA National Championship Tournament in South Bend, Indiana, in early April. Meanwhile, the loss sends GCU-who won the SoPac East Conference title for the first time ever last month-home one win short of their first-ever trip to nationals.

For the Lopes, the game had one scoring drought too many. After breaking out to an early 6-2 lead, GCU suddenly struggled to find the range offensively, allowing the Sun Devils to score 12 unanswered points to take an eight-point lead. Lopes’ Head Coach Jeremy Basham adjusted his offense, allowing GCU junior guard Dennis Shouse to start driving the lane. As a result, the Lopes powered back, using an 11-0 run of their own to take their largest lead of the game, 29-22, with four minutes left in the first half. Once again, the ASU defense slowed the Lopes down enough to close the deficit to four points at halftime, 33-29.

Both teams came out firing to start the second half as they traded the lead four different times in the first six minutes of the half. Back-to-back three-pointers by Lopes’ junior guard Zac Ramirez gave GCU the lead back, which they would eventually expand to a 52-45 edge with seven minutes left. That’s when the momentum would swing, when after an ASU timeout, the Sun Devils employed full-court pressure defense for the first time all day, which forced some GCU turnovers that allowed ASU to battle their way back to tie the game at 57-57 with 3:50 left. A trey by GCU junior Nato Cessna on the next possession gave the Lopes what would prove to be their last lead of the game. ASU center Rex Greabell answered with a three-pointer of his own to tie the game again with three minutes left.

From there, it was the difference of making shots, and GCU’s range went cold for the final time this season. “We drew up some sets, and we ran them, but we just didn’t execute,” Basham said. “You’re going to play someone tough in the title game, and that’s what can happen. We just missed a few late, and they hit their shots late. That’s pretty much the story.”

Tyler Guest’s followup on his own missed layup gave ASU a 62-61 lead, and while the Lopes got good looks on three-point attempts by Cessna, Tyler Weeks and Shouse down the stretch, they couldn’t convert. The Lopes were forced to foul, and the Sun Devils obliged, making five of their seven free throws in the final two minutes to ice the victory. Shouse had 15 of his game-high 22 points in the first half for the Lopes, while Ramirez posted 16 points, and Cessna added 12. Greabell led four different ASU players in double figures with 20 points.

The elated Sun Devils (12-2), who entered the tournament as the only team in the field without winning a conference title, had plenty of reasons to savor the win in their first year of club basketball.

“It’s huge. We had two of our best players not here (in the tournament),” said ASU Head Coach Hrag Yazijian. “All of these guys are just sophomores and juniors, and especially as a first-year club, since we don’t get a lot of funding, this is from the merit of our hard work.”

While Basham was understandably down about his team finishing as the runners-up, he was quick to look towards the bright futures of his players.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed with the outcome, but the guys have set the bar very high here,” mused Basham. “Win or lose, I’m just proud of them, but they’re just great people overall. I told them that the basketball’s going to stop dribbling sometime, but they get that, and they’re going to get a great degree, and become good husbands and good fathers. They’re going to be successful whatever they do.”

The Lopes finished the 2017-18 season with an 11-3 overall record.

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