In an early season filled with ups and downs Dan Majerle and the Grand Canyon men’s basketball team got an awfully nice Christmas gift knocking off 2014 Mountain West Conference champion New Mexico 68-65 Tuesday night in front of 6,340 spirited fans at GCU Arena.
“I thought it was great,” Majerle said on his post-game radio interview referring to the 40-minute effort he’d been asking from his team. “Came out from the beginning and didn’t let them have any momentum…that was just an unbelievable win for our guys.”
After the game was tied at 30 at the half the Lopes’ hustled and scrambled to an eight-point lead with just over five minutes to play, despite being out-rebounded by the bigger Lobos who appeared to be a step slow most of the night.
It was the type of monumental win Majerle has been looking for as he continues to build the Lopes’ program. Many believe it was the biggest in the program’s history. GCU (6-7) didn’t shoot particularly well from the field (38%) but hit 19-26 free throws, including several in the final few minutes as the Lobos (8-4) scrambled to trim the deficit.
“That was our first ever big signature win,” he explained. “To do that and to do it here in front of our crowd…I’m just really happy because our guys have worked extremely hard.”
Majerle has spent most of the first two months of the season mixing and matching lineups trying to find the right on-floor chemistry with a host of newcomers and first-year players. Seven different starting lineups took the floor through the first 13 games and entering Tuesday 11 different players started at least one game.
Redshirt freshman guard Joshua Braun from Anthem had another solid game scoring a team-high 18 points, adding four steals and three blocks. The WAC Player of the Week earlier this month has scored in double figures six times this season and has helped pick up the scoring slack as senior forward Daniel Alexander is shooting well under 40% from the floor. Alexander played easily his best game of the season in the upset of UNM scoring 17 points (9-10 free throws) while grabbing a team-high seven rebounds. It’s encouraging for GCU to win a close game against a quality opponent without junior point guard DeWayne Russell playing his best game. The former Peoria High star scored 10 points but struggled from the field making only two of six shots.
Another stat which will bring a smile to Majerle’s face is GCU committed only seven turnovers.
GCU has also been snakebitten by a trio of two-point losses (UT-Arlington, Central Michigan, Incarnate Word). They’ll round out their seven-game, non-conference home stand after Christmas against Abilene Christian (December 28), NCAA tournament regular Harvard (December 30) and UC-Riverside (January 4).
Tuesday was the type of win which will boost GCU’s confidence as the calendar turns to 2015.
WAC play starts January 10th against Bakersfield at GCU Arena.