Despite NCAA Tournament loss, GCU finds itself in national spotlight

Despite NCAA Tournament loss, GCU finds itself in national spotlight
Grand Canyon fans, also known as the Havocs seen in this file photo, showed their support from the stands in the team's NCAA Tournament game against Iowa on Saturday, March 20. Their presence help cast the program in the national spotlight. (Source: Cronkite News)

Even though the Grand Canyon men’s basketball team lost in its first NCAA Tournament appearance, the trip to Indiana wasn’t without its benefits.

The No. 15 seed Lopes found themselves in the national spotlight.

During their 86-74 loss to No. 2 Iowa Saturday at Farmers Coliseum in Indianapolis, TBS cameras zoomed in on the rowdy Havocs, the passionate fan base for the school’s athletic teams. The university chartered two private jets and flew 240 members of the GCU student section to the game. The Havocs brought the noise and energy that the Lopes have become accustomed to experiencing.

“You could see the excitement that our university has for basketball,” Lopes coach Bryce Drew said. “Our fans, best in the country.”

It was another step for a university that has reinvented itself in the past decade.

“We had our fans out here, they brought the energy, March Madness, it’s just an amazing feeling,” guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. said.

Iowa (22-8) jumped out to an 11-2 lead, but GCU (17-7) was able to keep it close early in the first half. After the first few minutes, the Lopes seemed to settle into the game.

Once the Hawkeyes started hitting their shots though, GCU couldn’t keep pace offensively. Luka Garza, one of the top players in the country, finished with 24 points on 9-of-16 shooting. Overall, Iowa shot 53.7 percent from the floor, including 45.5 percent from deep.

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“You can’t take away everything with Iowa,” said Drew, noting that the Hawkeyes are standouts across the board offensively.

Drew was particularly impressed by Garza’s shooting ability.

“He’s a Player of the Year candidate for a reason,” he said. “He comes out and goes 4 for 5 (from three) first round in the NCAA Tournament.

“He’s the best scoring big in the country and I thought our guys really battled him. Credit him for getting about half of his field goals out at the 3-point line tonight.”

Asbjorn Midtgaard led the way for the Lopes, shooting 8 of 11 for 18 points. Blacksher Jr., Alessandro Lever and Gabe McGlothan also finished with double digits. Together, the four combined for almost 80 percent of GCU’s points.

Drew has referred to GCU as “the best-kept secret in college basketball” on multiple occasions. With more seasons like this one and games on the national stage, the Lopes may become more well known to the rest of the country.

GCU finishes the season 17-7, and it seems poised to build upon a strong first year under Drew, a year that included the team’s first Western Athletic Conference championship.

“This was an unbelievable year for our program, to get to the NCAA Tournament, and with our support, we definitely want to keep elevating this program and try to get it to higher levels,” Drew said.

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