Lopes outlast USC, 101-92, in consolation final to finish 3rd
By: Jim Howell/GCU Club Sports Information Director
In a game that resembled aspects of an NBA All-Star Game – a track meet with little defense and plenty of three-point bombs – the 3rd-seeded GCU Men’s Club Basketball Team White made some big buckets down to the stretch to down 4th-seeded University of Southern California, 101-92, in the consolation final of the 2019 National Club Basketball Association (NCBBA) Southern Pacific (SoPac) Regional Tournament Saturday afternoon. The win earns the Lopes a 3rd-place finish at the tournament, which was hosted by top-seeded Arizona State University at the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the ASU main campus in Tempe.
The Lopes fell into the consolation round after dropping their opening-round semifinal matchup against 2nd-seeded Cal Poly Pomona, 90-81, earlier in the day.
Consolation Final: #3 GCU 101, #4 USC 92
The two teams – who’d both lost their chances for a regional title and a trip to nationals within two hours of tipoff of the consolation final – quickly put their hurt feelings aside for a 75-minute track meet. From the opening tip, the teams took turns firing at will from three-point range, and rarely getting time to get set defensively. After giving up the opening basket, the Lopes roared to a ten-point lead, thanks to four straight treys from freshman guard Noah Rodriguez. Almost as quickly, the Trojans cut the deficit to one point, and the ensuing tempo was set. The Lopes took the biggest lead of the game eight minutes in at 30-19, only to see USC roar back to tie the game for the first time at 33-33. GCU used a late run to take a 51-45 edge at the half.
A Justin Cheek driving layin to open the second half gave the Lopes an eight-point cushion, but the Trojans then caught fire to score the next eight points. Over the next eleven minutes, the two teams would slug it out to the tune of seven ties and 12 lead changes. Jayden Michael’s jumper with 3:47 left gave the Lopes an 85-84 edge, and sparked a 12-2 GCU run that put the game out of reach.
Michael led the way for the Lopes, scoring 14 of his game-high 23 points in the 2nd half. Trever Ballard added 16 points (including four three-pointers), Rodriguez finished with 15 (all from three-point range), and Nato Cessna added 11 off the bench. Benjamin Mahon led six Trojans (10-7 overall, 10-5 SoPac West) in double figures with 18 points in the losing effort. The game featured a total of 27 made treys (GCU with 16), 10 ties and 17 lead changes.
“No one likes to play in a consolation game, so you just get through it and hope for the best,” said Lopes’ Head Coach Matt Gordon. “It was a sloppy game, but we made more shots than they did. USC gave us little resistance defensively.”
Semifinal Round: #2 Cal Poly Pomona 90, #3 GCU 81
Unlike the Lopes’ finale of the day, it was their inability to finish plays down the stretch in the semifinal round that prevented them from heading to the championship game for the second straight year.
Cal Poly Pomona – who qualified for the #2 seed after winning the SoPac North with a 12-3-3 record – opened the game on fire, breezing to a 33-14 lead after just nine minutes of play. Fortunes switched quickly as the Broncos went cold, scoring just nine points the rest of the half, and allowing the Lopes’ three-point shooting to let GCU roar back into it. Eight first-half treys – including four from Cessna – powered the Lopes to obliterate the deficit with a 35-9 run, scoring the final 12 points of the half to take a 49-42 lead.
GCU picked up where it left off to start the second half as Ballard hit a long trey to give them their largest lead of the game at 52-42. However, CPP’s defensive adjustments hampered the Lopes’ offensive efforts from there as the Broncos rallied to tie the game at 52, then played nip-and-tuck with the Lopes for the next seven minutes. Ballard scored 20 of his team-high 28 points after halftime, but got only 12 second-half points from his teammates. The Lopes took their final lead of the game, 74-73, with 6:32 left in the game, but only managed seven points from there. The Lopes’ defense also had no answer for Cal Poly Pomona’s Michael Kalu, who shredded GCU for a game-high 34 points.
“He’s really good,” said Gordon after watching Kalu score 19 points in the second half to help the Broncos pull away. “He was a tough guy for us to guard, since he’s strong and athletic. He shoots it well outside, and drives it just as well. Why he’s not playing on a higher level than club ball… I don’t know.”
GCU’s Jayden Michael finished with 17 points, and Cessna added 12, but the two scored just four of those points after halftime. All five Broncos’ starters scored in double figures.
With the win, the Broncos advance to Sunday’s championship game against ASU, who used a big second half in their semifinal round game to beat USC, 84-68, Saturday afternoon.
The Lopes may have finished one win shy of having one of their teams reach the championship round for the second straight year (GCU Purple lost to ASU in last year’s final at Antelope Gym), but Gordon saw progress on a lot of different fronts.
“With wins and losses, it was OK, but we basically started anew in terms of organization with the program this year,” said Gordon. “We had mostly first-year guys playing (over the four club teams), so it’s a good start for the club program at GCU, and we’re excited for the progress of the next couple of years.”
GCU White finished the 2018-19 season with an overall record of 9-5, and an 8-4 mark in SoPac East play.