Lopes Begin March Madness After 20th Win on Senior Night

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The Lopes ended their regular season on a three-game winning streak and earned their 20th win of the season on senior night at GCU Arena.

“Our guys have worked hard all year long and it hasn’t went as planned but we sure did finish strong, which is a great thing,” GCU head coach Dan Majerle said. “I told these guys from the beginning: all that matters is the three games in March. We’re finally there. Our guys are excited. You can just see it in their faces.”

GCU makes its WAC tournament debut Thursday at noon in Las Vegas against Missouri-Kansas City at New Orleans Arena. Grand Canyon had to go through a 4-year transition period once it joined the WAC before they were tournament (both conference and NCAA) eligible. This was for all sports.

“I’ve been waiting 5 years for this,” Josh Braun said holding back tears. “It means everything. It’s exciting stuff and I’m looking forward to it. We want to win that thing. That’s the goal, we want to go out there and win it.”

Braun closed out his final game at GCU Arena with 14 points on 5-of-8 shooting from the field and 3-of-5 shooting from three.

Coach Majerle took a moment to reflect on his time spent with Braun.

“I think back to being in that little building where our taller recruits would hit their heads on the sprinklers and talking to Josh on crutches and asking him if he wanted to be a Lope,” Majerle said. “That was my first recruit. He said yes and I’m glad he did because there is no way I could have anybody better than Josh Braun to propel this team to where it is not only on the floor but off the floor what he has been able to do for the university as a person, as a student and the way he has played. You can’t even ask for anything better than that so when I look back at it.”

Senior Keonta Vernon couldn’t be more ready for the tournament, also.

“I’m ready to go,” Vernon said. “It’s go-time now. “One game at a time and we need to win three of them. We’ve just got to keep it going and focus on defense and rebounding. That’s where we hang our hats.”

Grand Canyon ranks third in the country in defensive efficiency rating.

Freshman center Alessandro Lever has been a big difference maker for the Lopes as a strong post presence who can also shoot threes. Lever put up 23 points and 8 rebounds against CSUB to secure GCU’s 81-68 win.  He has 7 20 point or more games in his last 12 games, 11 of them WAC games.

“Alé is a big difference regardless,” Vernon said. “I love the kid. “He’s definitely gained his confidence throughout the year. It’s only going to grow from here.”

Vernon added to the emotion of senior night by asking his long time girlfriend to marry him during the ceremony before the game.

Of course, he needed Dan Majerle’s permission first.

“Yeah, he got my blessing,” Dan Majerle said with a big smile. “He knew better not to do it without my blessing.”

Vernon knew the repercussions if he hadn’t asked Majerle first.

“If I did it and didn’t ask him, oh man, y’all wouldn’t see me in the starting line up next week,” Vernon said with a smile. “But I went up there and talked to him and he was all happy for me.”

GCU faces UMKC for the third time. The Lopes destroyed them twice this season, winning by 20 points and 17 points by shooting over 50 percent from the field in both games and outrebounding them 92-46 in both games combined.

Freshman Alessandro Lever put on a dominant performance against the Roos in the first matchup posting 24 points and 10 rebounds for his first career double-double. Oscar Frayer added 14 points and 9 rebounds while Casey Benson scored 12 points and dished out nine assists to win it 86-69.

In game two against UMKC, Vernon had 18 points while Frayer grabbed a career-high 13 boards, to race past the Kangaroos 79-62.

The Lopes plan to come out with the same intensity on Thursday and hope to bring home the WAC title.