Lopes lose in WAC Tournament final, once again fall 1 win short of NCAA Tournament

GCU once again fell to NMSU in the finals
Posted at 8:55 PM, Mar 16, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-18 15:43:39-04

For the second straight year, the Grand Canyon men's basketball team came one win away from earning its first-ever NCAA Tournament bid.

And for the second straight year, it was top-seeded New Mexico State that dashed the Lopes' dream.

New Mexico State routed GCU 89-57 in Saturday night's WAC Tournament championship game at the Orleans Arena to earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Aggies, who won all three of their matchups with GCU this season, defeated the Lopes 72-58 in last year's championship game in the same venue.

"I am extremely proud of our guys. We just ran out of gas," GCU coach Dan Majerle said after the loss. "New Mexico State earned this win. They played terrific basketball. We ran out of gas.

"Three games in three nights. Our guys have a short rotation. The guys that have played just didn't have it tonight, and I can't blame them. It's not because of effort or anything like that. We just didn't have it."

Everything went right for the Lopes in the first five minutes of Saturday's game, as they jumped out to a 10-2 lead and had the thousands of Lopes fans in attendance on their feet. But it was all Aggies, who won their 19th straight game, the rest of the way. NMSU out-shot, out-rebounded and out-defended GCU, to the delight of the NMSU fans who made the trip from Las Cruces.

Junior guard Carlos Johnson, who scored career highs in the Lopes' wins in the WAC Tournament quarterfinals and semifinals -- 66 total points in the two games -- was held to nine points on 3 of 9 shooting Saturday.

GCU shot just 7 of 30 from 3-point range, NMSU went 17 of 39 from beyond the arc.

GCU is in its sixth season at the NCAA Division I level, and Majerle has been the Lopes' coach for all of those seasons -- but this was just GCU's second season of NCAA Tournament eligibility.

Saturday's result means the Lopes will have to wait at least one more season to punch their first-ever ticket to the Big Dance.

"It's amazing what we have done as a university, and it's just not the basketball team; it's the whole university from the president down," Majerle said. "We have grown so quickly in all sports. The university has grown. When I got there almost seven years ago, there were 4,000 students; now we have 21,000 on campus.

"We've grown very quickly, and the expectations are high, which I'm glad (about) and that's why I went there. So, we are disappointed, but we have to also remember that we're in our infant stages. This is just our second year eligible for the Tournament, and we've made it to the finals here in the WAC Tournament twice.

"So, again, I'm proud of everybody -- our student body, our fan support, our campus, my players, everybody. I can't tell enough about what an atmosphere (this is), and I'm lucky to be involved with such a great university."