Success doesn’t always come easy.
Just ask Grand Canyon University head basketball coach Russ Pennell who’s Antelopes improved to 23-5, 14-3 in Pacific West play with a 75-73 overtime nail-biter over BYU-Hawaii (14-11, 11-6) Tuesday night at GCU Arena.
“When you’ve got two good teams it’s going to be a difficult ballgame,” Pennell explained to Pros2Preps.com. “We knew that with BYU [Hawaii]. We’ve had some bar burners with them. Tonight, our guys just toughed it out. Their will to win was better than their decision making and judgement. I didn’t think we played a particularly smart ballgame.”
GCU started slow falling behind 11-4 after guard Pablo Coro’s second early three-pointer. BYU-Hawaii hit a number of difficult, deep shots with the shot clock running down in the opening moments. The ‘Lopes offense failed to find any rhythm suffering bad turnovers and committing a pair of offensive fouls in the first eight minutes.
The ‘Lopes started to pick it offensively and pulled even at 15 after junior Brad Carroll’s three-pointer followed a three by Scottsdale Saguaro product Steve Morin who hit six in a win over Hawaii Pacific on Saturday.
Grand Canyon picked up their intensity defensively and got some help from their bench as former Mesa Mountain View star Camyn Boone’s layup on the baseline put GCU up 28-23 at the under four-minute media timeout.
The Seasiders stayed close behind strong three-point shooting and the ‘Lopes went to the locker room with a slim 32-31 lead. Joshua Lowery led GCU in scoring at the half with six. Center Killian Larson collected eight rebounds by intermission.
BYU-Hawaii shot slightly better from floor (47.8% to the ‘Lopes 45.5%) but GCU made five more free throws (9-11).
The Seasiders started the second half much like the first putting GCU on their heels defensively. A quick 5-0 run forced an incensed Pennell to call timeout after the ‘Lopes fell behind by four. The lead swelled to seven after Robbie Mitchell’s three-point play less than two minutes in.
“I don’t know if it’s the grind of the season or it’s just our style,” Killian said about the slow starts to each half. “We’ve tried different things to change that and it just hasn’t worked. When they hit us in the mouth we just try to fight back.”
Eventually GCU rallied the troops and pulled ahead by five on Jerome Garrison’s twisting bank shot along the baseline. The lead swelled to nine at 55-46 after two Barret Robbins free throws.
It didn’t take long for the Seasiders to strike back. Six unanswered points made it a one-possession game with just under five minutes to play. One possession later B.J. Ford’s deep three tied it at 55.
That’s when Larson decided to take over. The 6’9 junior made four free throws and a tough, off-balance shot in the lane to put GCU up five with 1:32 left.
The Seasiders never quit and eventually forced overtime with a late three-pointer following two Larson misses at the line.
In the extra session the Lopes relied on their bigs Larson and Braylon Pickrel who scored six points during a key three-minute stretch in overtime to help seal the win. BYU-Hawaii had a chance to win it at the buzzer but BJ Ford’s corner three was no good and GCU got a win on senior night.
Larson finished with a team-high 17 points and a game-high 17 rebounds. Pickrel added 10 and seven boards while Josh Lowery had 12 points and four assists.
“He is one one of the better big men in this conference,” Pennell said of Larson. “He did [a great job] on the glass tonight and Braylon made big plays. They both made some big plays…that carried us to the victory.”
The ‘Lopes wrap up the regular season in southern California Saturday night against Azuza Pacific.