Lopes fall to eventual finalist Houston CC Sunday after going undefeated in pool play
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
They beat the national champs. If only it hadn’t happened in pool play.
After enduring back-to-back nailbiters to go undefeated in pool play, the GCU Men’s Club Basketball Team reached the quarterfinals of the National Intramural-Recreational Sports Association (NIRSA) National Championships before bowing to Houston Community College (TX), 72-57, Sunday at the Wichita Hoops Basketball Facility in Wichita, Kansas. The Lopes finished the three-day tournament with a 3-1 overall record. The event showcased 21 different colleges and universities, and was hosted by Wichita State University.
The Lopes spent the season showcasing four different men’s club basketball teams – including a pair (GCU Purple and GCU White) that competed against each other in the National Club Basketball Association (NCBBA) for conference play. After GCU White reached the NCBBA Regional Tournament in Tempe two weeks ago and finished 3rd, the program then combined a total of eight players from those teams to take to Kansas to close out their 2018-19 campaign.
“Along with preparing with flights and hotels, we only had about six days to get ready practice-wise,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Lamont Lane, who led the team in Wichita after coaching GCU Purple throughout the season. “The guys did a good job of getting five really strong days of practice throughout the week, so we were prepared.”
Every minute of practice in Phoenix was essential, since the team landed in Kansas Friday afternoon, and was on the court playing their first game of the tournament a couple of hours later. Their first pool-play opponent? None other than the defending champions of the NCBBA.
“The first game was against Ohio State,” said Lane. “We really didn’t know what their roster would look like (for this tournament), but we knew they were good. However, our guys came out, and immediately executed.”
From the opening tip, though, it was the Buckeyes – who were the preseason #1 in this year’s NCBBA Poll, and were in the NCBBA Top 10 until the final month of the regular season – who seemed to resemble the more jetlagged team. It was the Lopes who jumped out to a 20-point lead in the first half, and maintained the double-digit advantage throughout the 61-52 win. Jayden Michael led the Lopes with 23 points and eight rebounds.
Surprisingly, the OSU matchup wound up being the easiest game the Lopes played on the weekend. The Lopes stayed undefeated after Saturday’s two matchups, but had to work for it, going to overtime after blowing double-digit leads against both James Madison University and Stephen F. Austin State University.
Saturday morning, the guard-heavy Dukes roared back from a 17-point deficit to force the Lopes to overtime before the Lopes took an early lead in OT and held on for the 55-52 win over JMU. The Lopes needed 15 points from Dante’ Nobles and a double-double from Michael (14 points, 10 rebounds) Saturday morning to emerge as the top seed from their pool.
Saturday afternoon, the Lopes opened play in the playoff bracket by overcoming a 22-point, 19-rebound performance by SFA’s 7-foot center, Dylan Adkins, to get the overtime win, 60-58. The Lopes again blew a double-digit cushion, and found themselves trailing the Lumberjacks by five points with 50 seconds left in regulation. GCU’s Dustin Troutt hit two treys in the final seconds to send the game to the three-minute overtime period, then transition buckets off a couple of key Lopes’ steals early in the extra stanza gave GCU the lead for good. Michael again paced the Lopes with 22 points and 9 boards, while Nobles chipped in 15 points – including three treys.
The Lopes’ ride came to an end Sunday morning at the hands of Houston Community College. This time, the Lopes dug themselves an early hole, trailing by 15 points midway through the first half before rallying to cut the deficit to four points at halftime. However, behind 7 three-pointers from Deshon Lenette, HCC rebuilt the double-digit lead right after halftime, and breezed to the 72-57 victory. Michael had 24 points for GCU, while Troutt added 12.
“They came out with their size, their length, and they hit us early with their press defense, and turnovers combined with missed shots put us in a hole, and with the running clock of NIRSA rules, we just couldn’t come back,” said Lane. “We were pretty disappointed, since we thought we’d taken out the best team there early on, and our expectations grew from there.”
HCC eventually reached the championship game, where they lost to resilient Ohio State, 51-45. OSU’s only loss of the tournament was to the Lopes.
While the trip home wasn’t quite as glee-filled as they might’ve hoped, Lane saw what the performance of the eight-man contingent accomplished now… and for the future.
“The trip built a lot of confidence, and the guys spent a lot of time together and built a lot of camaraderie,” remarked Lane. “Going into next year with a lot of sophomores, this type of trip creates a very promising future for the program.”