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Tough travels end with gritty win

302sports 212 Jan 21

(Dixon, GCU)

The only thing tougher than the travel that Grand Canyon to endure to get to Kansas City was the way the Lopes had to gut out a win Sunday.

GCU's departure from Chicago was delayed by a day because of flight cancellation and then the Lopes needed to fly to St. Louis and bus to Kansas City, where they rolled into town at 2:30 a.m. By the afternoon, GCU was playing one of the most physical, aggressive teams in the WAC and never allowed Kansas City to take a lead for the final 35 minutes of a 69-66 victory at Swinney Center.

GCU jumped over three conference teams for fifth place in the conference by staving off the Roos down the stretch with junior guardMikey Dixon (Sanford)scoring 12 of his game-high 21 points in the final 5 ½ minutes.

Kansas City pulled within two when Dixon made his third 3-pointer of the game and the Roos closed the gap to two once and one twice in the final 30 seconds, only to see Dixon ice the game with six consecutive made free throws.

"It's what you've got to do on the road – gut it out," Lopes head coachDan Majerlesaid. "I'm proud of my guys. It's been a hard, what seems like a couple weeks, but it's only five days. We got here and had a really good first half. We knew they'd come back and they played hard but our guys battled through it."

The Lopes (7-11, 2-2 WAC) held the Roos (9-11, 2-4) to 38.3% shooting from the field, including missing seven of their final 11 shots of the game.

GCU led by as many as 10 points when senior swingmanCarlos Johnsonmade a 3-pointer for a 48-38 lead with 14:29 to go in the game but later went nearly seven minutes without a field goal to allow Kansas City to tie the game twice. A Dixon 3-pointer with 5:28 to go sparked a 7-0 run that gave the Lopes the lead for good but it was tenuous down the stretch.

Kansas City hit a pair of 3s to make late threats but the last of Dixon's six consecutive free throws put GCU ahead 69-66 with 7.8 seconds remaining. Roos forward Jordan Giles missed a potential tying 3 to give the Lopes a 2-0 trip.

"He can really score," Majerle said of Dixon, the midseason addition who is averaging 17.3 points on 58.1% shooting in the past three GCU games. "He's still trying to figure it out. I think he's still going to get better. He just keeps getting better. He made some big free throws. He hit that huge 3. He's going to be a good one. He keeps working at it and he's only a junior and he's been gone so long but every game you seem him starting to find his way. As a coach, I'm starting to find the best situations to put him in to be successful."

Beyond Dixon's 21 on 6-of-10 shooting, Johnson scored 18 on 6-of-11 shooting to help the Lopes overcome an off-game from junior centerAlessandro Lever, who still scored 14 points and added nine rebounds.

"Once you get on that court, it's time to play," Johnson said. "We put everything else aside. We tried to come out and execute as much as we can and pull out the win any way possible.

"It felt good to sustain enough energy and enough effort to pull out a win."

The Lopes won the boards 33-30 with 5-foot-11 freshmanJovan Blacksher Jr.leading GCU with a season-high tying 10 rebounds. GCU only made 11 turnovers, giving it 10 consecutive games of 12 or fewer turnovers.

Johnson's downhill offensive play led GCU with a 13-point first half, when Lever made 1 of 6 shots. SophomoreRaef Gerdesjoined the regular rotation for the second consecutive game, scoring on free throws off a cutting drive, and the Lopes thought they took a 39-32 halftime lead when video review confirmed a buzzer-beating 3 by senior power forwardLorenzo Jenkins. Before the second half resumed, the officials overruled the call after seeing a new angle.

It just added to the theme of resilience for the trip, which did not GCU to practice or have a shootaround at a Swinney Center that lost its crowd to the Chiefs' simultaneous AFC Championship game.

"We battled through a lot of adversity and we needed this win bad so it's a great weekend to come here in the Midwest and get two and now we've got to go home and keep it going," Majerle said.

"They stumbled but they didn't fall. They made some big baskets down the stretch and found a way to win the game. I'm really happy for them. It was a great win for us."
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