The Grand Canyon Lopes knew a five-game, three-week road trip was finally upon them; meaning a win at home over their division rivals, the Hawai’i Pacific Sea Warriors, was a must before they become road warriors.
The Lopes were in a dogfight for a good portion of the game, as Hawai’i Pacific had a slim one-point lead at halftime, thanks to stifling defense and 13 Grand Canyon turnovers in the first half.
However, the Lopes turned the tables, got their defense in order and put the clamps down on Hawaii Pacific, limiting them to 32 percent shooting in the second half, as they would come away with a 70-57 victory at GCU Arena.
Guard Nick Witherill played some serious “6th Man” minutes – 28 of them – and made the most of them, scoring 20 points to lead the team to the victory.
Witherill was 5-of-9 from the field, including 4-of-5 from downtown.
Guard Kyle Speed, who had a productive night as well, with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists, was proud of his fellow backcourt mate and what he accomplished against a tough Sea Warriors defense.
“I feel like for Nick, we’ve been waiting for this, because he’s a senior and a great shooter,” Speed said. “He gives us another dimension to our team that was missing, coming off the bench and being able to score like he can.”
In the first half, Hawai’i Pacific, and their three big men – forwards Glenn Miller, Sean Jones and Marko Cukic – really seemed to slow down the attacking style of offense that Grand Canyon loves to put on.
The Lopes couldn’t get much power established when they were on offense, and the turnovers came at a much higher rate than what they’re used to giving up.
But Grand Canyon regrouped and finally got down to business in the final 20 minutes and outscored the Sea Warriors by 14 in the second half.
“The thing about this team is that they’re pretty good about self-correcting once we identify it in the middle of the game,” head coach Russ Pennell said.
“I thought they took what we talked about at halftime and put it into play, and that was the final outcome of the game.”
With the win, the Lopes are now 10-5, 4-3 in the Pac West Conference.
Now comes the ultimate test for Grand Canyon.
Starting on Saturday night, the Lopes are in Hawai’i and California for the next five games. These games will determine how the rest of the season plays out for Grand Canyon.
They’ll face three of the top four teams in the conference on this trip – BYU-Hawai’i, Chaminade and California Baptist – and have a great chance to move up in the standings if they can pull off the trifecta and beat them all.
They’ll also have a rematch with the Sea Warriors in Hilo, HI, on February 4, which should be another tough game.
“We’ve known all year that this is coming,” Pennell said. “We’ve got to collectively decide that we’re gonna go get this thing done. I think it’ll be a great test of character for us.”