Grand Canyon won its third consecutive game for the first time since early January, but it’s going to need to win three more in a row to get into the NCAA Tournament.
GCU’s 82-77 win over No. 12-seed UT Arlington at Michelob ULTRA Arena in Las Vegas on Tuesday, powered by guard Ray Harrison’s 30 points, moves the No. 5 Antelopes into Thursday’s 3 p.m., quarterfinal against No. 4 Seattle U at Orleans Arena.
Seattle U, which got a bye to the quarterfinals by finishing among the top four, beat GCU (21-11) twice during the regular season. It held the Lopes to a Division I-era fewest 13 points in the first half in a 65-54 win at GCU on Feb. 24.
“This is our get-back game,” guard Chace McMillian, who had 18 points, said in the post-game news conference. “We have something to owe them. We’re going to come prepared, and we’re going to fight.”
Since the Seattle U loss, GCU swept the Utah trip, beating Southern Utah and Utah Tech, and now took care of its first-round matchup against a team that showed resiliency in the second half after GCU got up by 64-50 on a McMillian 3 with 6:58 left.
GCU needed to make 9 of 10 free throws in the final 1:05 to hold off the Mavericks.
Harrison made 4 of 4 free throws during that stretch. He made 9 of 15 field goals and 10 of 13 free throws over the game. He also had seven rebounds. Forward Gabe McGlothan added 15 points and seven rebounds and McMillian had 18 points on 6 of 9 shooting, including 2 of 4 3-pointers.
Harrison wasn’t named the WAC Player of the Year, even after leading the league in scoring. He made first-team all-conference in his first year with the Lopes, but he didn’t use any slight as motivation.
“I came into the game with the same approach as always,” he said.
UTA (11-21) narrowed the lead to 75-71 with 51 seconds left on Marion Humphrey’s two free throws. But the Mavericks couldn’t get any closer than four.
Both teams shot 50% but GCU made 26 of 36 free throws, while UTA made 10 of 13 from the line.
“I think the progression,” GCU coach Bryce Drew said of the late-season surge. “There are hills and valleys during the year. There are going to be growing pains. That last home game was a learning experience. You learn and get better or you crumble.
“Our team has had to fight adversity with the ups and downs.”
GCU used quite a bit of zone against UTA’s four-guard lineup, something it went to during the Utah trip, realizing there could be four games to play in five days this week.
Drew, who prefers defending man-to-man, wants to save his players’ legs in the long haul. He has been using a short rotation during WAC play, especially after losing point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr., in early January to a season-ending knee injury.
“Zone helped us the last two games on the road,” Drew said. “We wanted to see if we could make a run during it and with it. We might need some different defenses. Obviously, man is what we want to do. These guys (Harrison and McMillian) have done a good job in zone and allows us to get out on the break.”
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