PHOENIX – With 12 seconds remaining in Grand Canyon’s game against North Texas, junior forward Yvan Ouedraogo gave GCU a chance at the end with a big defensive rebound.
Eyes quickly turned toward the defending WAC Player of the Year, junior guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. As the final seconds wound down, a GCU-heavy crowd with students filling three sections of Footprint Center eagerly awaited the finish as Blacksher dribbled to the top of the key and remained there.
A stifling defense meant a pass to junior guard Joey Baker with two seconds left. Baker had no choice but to shoot well beyond the NBA 3-point line in the final tenths of a second. He missed by a good margin and the GCU men’s basketball team had to settle for a painful 60-58 defeat Saturday in the Jerry Colangelo Classic.
Without a timeout, coach Bryce Drew could not gather his team to draw a play to try and either extend the game with a two-point shot or win it with a 3-pointer.
“We wanted to get a defensive stop and then go right into our transition and attack,” Drew said. “They did a good job building a wall and we didn’t get a great shot up.”
Defense was the message =as both teams failed to get into much of an offensive rhythm. GCU and North Texas shot less than 40% from the floor, with the Lopes failing to make a field goal in the game’s final five minutes.
The pace began to pick up in the second half as both teams made more shots.
“We would rather have more possessions and more shots on goal,” Drew said.
GCU sophomore guard Ray Harrison stood out, providing 23 points on a 6-of-14 shooting performance. He scored 14 in the second half with six coming at the free throw line.
“He’s had some up and down games to start the year, just getting his rhythm and his feel for where he fits in our offense,” Drew said.
Saturday’s game is part of a tough GCU slate with two NCAA Tournament teams from last season in this year’s non-conference schedule. North Texas is not on that list, but won the Conference USA regular season championship in 2020-21.
Drew believes learning from losses like Saturday’s will prepare his team for the ultimate goal of performing well at the end of the season.
“For us, a lot boils down to March,” Drew said. “Hopefully, all of these lessons learned are going to help us be our best in March.”
The Lopes have played at the downtown Phoenix venue in five of the last six seasons. This particular showcase, though, is special with the event honoring Colangelo, former owner of the Phoenix Suns and Arizona Diamondbacks, among other Arizona teams, and the chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He has served as the Hall’s chairman since 2009.
He became an instrumental part of GCU in 2011, when he helped start the Colangelo School of Sports Business. Three years later, GCU named its business college the Colangelo College of Business.
“We’re so thankful,” Drew said of Colangelo. “I think the whole city of Phoenix is thankful and then, more than that, I think the game of basketball across the world is thankful for his presence and not just how successful he’s been, but how he’s done it in such a professional way. It’s just really admirable.”
GCU’s narrow loss against North Texas was the second game of the day as part of the Jerry Colangelo Classic. In the first game, Saint Mary’s upset No. 22 San Diego State, 68-61, behind 20 points from freshman guard Aidan Mahaney and 17 points from senior guard Alex Ducas.
The Gaels limited last season’s Mountain West Conference Defensive Player of the Year, SDSU senior forward Nathan Mensah, to four points and four rebounds before he fouled out with 1:47 remaining.
Saint Mary’s fifth-year guard Logan Johnson, who scored 15 points and grabbed six rebounds, said getting Mensah out of the game before the pivotal moments was huge.
“When you’re able to get to two and he’s flying at you, it’s easy to go jump into him and get a foul call or bring him out of his game,” Johnson said. “We were fortunate to be able to do that tonight.”
Downtown Phoenix’s college basketball festivities are not over for the year, though. The Jerry Colangelo Classic will continue with a tripleheader on Dec. 21.
Saint Mary’s is the only school that will have a second game in Footprint Center. The Gaels will play against Wyoming in the second game of the three-game slate.
Johnson said getting experience playing in the Footprint Center will help against the Cowboys.
“These are great games to play when people get to play in NBA venues,” Johnson said. “That amps a lot of the players up, so just being able to settle in and getting our young guys to see that they can compete on this type of level and in this type of event is important for the next time we come here because we got another tough one.”