Far from the spotlight of LeBron James and Kevin Durant's matchup in Oklahoma City, and on the opposite end of the spectrum from Duke and North Carolina's anticipated showdown on Thursday night, Grand Canyon beat Seattle U 74-73 at KeyArena in a game that featured 18 ties and 15 lead changes.
Down by three with 30 seconds to go, SU called on leading scorer and long-range gunner Isiah Umipig. Instead of taking a three, however, the junior point guard appeared to surprise the defense by driving the lane and making a layup while drawing a foul on GCU center Killian Larson, fouling the big man out of the game.
Umipig's free throw tied the score, but on the next possession, he fouled GCU guard Jerome Garrison (18 pts) away from the ball to send Garrison to the line with 13 seconds left.
Garrison made the first free throw to give the 'Lopes a one-point lead, then missed the second. The Redhawks got the rebound, and senior guard D'Vonne Pickett took the ball all the way to the rim for a decent look, but had his shot blocked. The 'Lopes tracked down the loose ball and were able to run the clock out.
In a post-game interview, SU assistant coach Darryl Talley said the strategy on the last possession was to catch Grand Canyon backpedaling and not give them time to set up a defense. That's not a bad call. And considering that Pickett has proven himself to be arguably SU's most clutch player and an effective scorer in the paint despite his 6-foot frame, it makes sense that Pickett would be given the green light to take the final shot.
And if Pickett makes the shot, nobody is questioning the play-calling of SU head coach Cameron Dollar and his staff.
But in hindsight, with 13 seconds to work with following the missed free throw, it would've also made sense for Umipig -- who scored a game-high 30 points -- to at least touch the ball. Or the Redhawks could have looked for a mismatch inside, since the 6-9 Larson (20 pts, 11 rebs) was stuck on Grand Canyon's bench.
"This was a tough loss, but I can't fault our guys' effort. They competed and did some good things," Dollar said afterward. "The game went back and forth, they made some plays, and then we made some plays. I have to give them credit for finishing the way they did."
Talley also said Thursday's game was the best Seattle U had played at home all season, which is true if you don't count some of the blowouts against overmatched teams during nonconference play.
Umipig hit six threes on his way to 30 points and added five assists. Pickett and sophomore center Jack Crook were SU's next-highest scorers with eight points each. Crook also had a team-high seven rebounds and Pickett had five assists, while senior forward Clarence Trent added seven points, six rebounds and three steals.
The loss dropped Seattle U to 12-13 overall and 4-8 in the Western Athletic Conference, while Grand Canyon improved to 13-11 overall and 8-3 in the WAC. The 'Lopes are now in third place in the conference and just 1.5 games behind leader Utah Valley. But as a program still in its first year transitioning to D-I, Grand Canyon is not eligible for the postseason and won't be entered into the WAC championship tournament.
Seattle U's next game is on Thursday, Feb. 27, at home against Chicago State.