GCU’s season ends after 78-73 loss to Mercer in the first round of the CBI Tournament

Grand Canyon falls to Mercer 78-73 at home in the first round of the CBI Tournament.

The Lopes had an opportunity to play more basketball with an invitation to the CBI Tournament but their season came to an end when they couldn’t hang on to a 6-point lead at home with 9:49 left to go.

“It was a good season,” head coach Dan Majerle said. “It really was. 22 wins, we got all the way to the conference finals. Disappointed about tonight. I wanted to keep playing.”

Casey Benson played like a senior from start to finish with an all around game, getting the Lopes within 3 after a strong drive to the basket with 33.5 left go in the game.

Benson finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-10 shooting from the field, 3-of-5 from downtown and also grabbed 8 rebounds and dished out 7 assists.

“Casey started playing really well,” Majerle said. “This was a big transformation for him from what he was expected to do at Oregon to what he is doing here and to his credit he started figuring it out.”

Fellow senior Keonta Vernon also stepped up with a team high 20 points including a vicious dunk that cut GCU’s deficit to 5.

The Bears were just too much to handle down the stretch, however, as both Ross Cummings and Jordan Strawberry hit big shots and both put up 21 points. Cummings went 5-of-7 from downtown. Mercer made 10 of 20 3-pointers and shot 51 percent from the field, the best a team has shot against GCU (ranked 3rd in defensive efficiency) all season.

Majerle said the lack of communication contributed to the Lopes loss tonight.

“It’s communication on both ends,” Majerle said. “Talking to each other defensively, doing the right thing, it’s doing what we’re supposed to do.”

The Lopes struggled offensively to start and never led in the first half. They were down by as many as 9 points, missing 12 of their first 14 shots, but it was Benson and backups Matt Jackson and Gerard Martin who kept the game within reach. Oscar Frayer hit a corner three to get GCU within 3 to close the first half.

Mercer had the 36-33 halftime lead which motivated Grand Canyon’s 14-point run within the first 4 minutes of the second half. Frayer threw down a windmill dunk that had the Havocs going crazy along with Vernon scoring nine of the Lopes’ first 12 points. Benson picked up right where he left off and hustled his way for a score to give the Lopes a 47-44 lead with 15:41 left.

The Bears then locked it down defensively, holding the Lopes scoreless for nearly eight minutes, making every shot difficult whether it was a three-point attempt or at the basket. No easy buckets for the Antelopes.

Although the season didn’t end the way Majerle had planned, he knows the work there is not finished and he already has big plans for the future.

“We got to get players, we got to get tough kids, we got to get smart kids, we got to get everything,” Majerle said. “We got to take a big step. We’ve signed one kid already. We’re out there. We’re looking for players.”