Grand Canyon basketball, raucous 'Havocs' have chance to make big splash in ESPN game

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  • Bryce Drew
    American sportsperson, basketball player and basketball coach
Jan 13, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; GCU fans celebrate during a game against Abilene Christian at GCU Arena. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen- The Republic
Jan 13, 2022; Phoenix, AZ, United States; GCU fans celebrate during a game against Abilene Christian at GCU Arena. Mandatory Credit: Patrick Breen- The Republic

Grand Canyon has waited a long time to show off its basketball team and its Havocs — the large, always loud, well-choreographed student section that the Phoenix school feels is the most electric incollege basketball — to a national audience on the ESPN network.

They'll be showcased on ESPNU for the first time at home Saturday night when the Antelopes (13-2, 4-0) play Tarleton State at GCU Arena.

This opportunity is the result of a new Western Athletic Conference deal with ESPN that started this year with one regular-season game being nationally televised. This is the game the national sports network picked from the WAC.

"The Havocs are unbelievable, every night," coach Bryce Drew said. "We know how sensational they are. We are looking forward to the opportunity for the whole country to see how tremendous GCU is and our Havocs.

"I know our guys will be really excited to play. It's neat we get to have this game while school is in session so our students can be here."

Drew has used video of the Havocs as part of his sales pitch to recruits since he took over the program during the COVID-19 2020 era at a time when coaches had their recruiting abilities limited.

But the Lopes don't want to just show off the Havocs. The team needs to match its intensity to keep up what has been a thrill ride of hot shooting over the last week.

"It's really fun when you get visitors to come here for the first time," Drew said. "They see a game for the first time and they're overwhelmed when they leave, how sensational and how much energy the building has. It's really special to have ESPN and all of the energy and excitement around the campus for this game."

It's a chance for junior point guard Jovan Blacksher Jr., to make a statement as one of the best guards in the country. With Holland Woods II and Blacksher together, they've been able to lift the Antelopes this season with a fast-paced game.

They've been good at sharing the basketball, finding open teammates. Ball movement led to another great shooting night in a 95-68 rout of Abilene Christian on Thursday night. They shot 63%, the best shooting percentage in a WAC game for the Lopes since they transitioned from NCAA Division II to I nine years ago. That was coming off a 14-point win last week at Texas Rio Grande Valley, where they shot 58%.

Sean Miller-Moore has already put together ESPN SportsCenter Top 10 plays this season with his high lift and dunks. Forward Gabe McGlothan also has thrown down thunderous slams, which cause the Havocs to reach jet-engine-like noise.

"This is a big game as far as being televised," Blacksher said. "A lot of people will be watching, so we should bring our A game."

Forward Taeshon Cherry has played in some big houses while he was at Arizona State. But Cherry, coming off a 16-point performance against ACU, said nothing compares to GCU Arena in his first season with the Lopes.

"I've played in a lot of big games and big crowds," Cherry said. "But I've never seen a crowd like this. Every night, it's crazy. They have a lot of energy. It's another sixth man for us."

Saturday's game

Tarleton State (8-10, 3-2) at GCU (13-2, 4-0), 7 p.m., at GCU Arena, ESPNU

About the Texans: They're coming off a 73-57 loss at New Mexico State on Thursday. They had beaten Sam Houston and Stephen F. Austin before that. They played Gonzaga tough on the road, losing the Nov. 29 game 64-55. They also lost by 11 at Michigan and by 12 at Stanford. Montre Gibson and Tahj Small both are averaging 15 points a game to lead them.

About the Antelopes: This is their first ESPN network game at home, but it's not the first time they've been on national TV at home. In 2016, in the CIT, they were on the CBS Sports Network. They've matched their best 15-game start in their Division I history with the 2015-16 team. Jovan Blacksher leads them with 16.9 points a game, followed by Holland Woods II at 13.5 and Gabe McGlothan at 10.7.

To suggest human-interest story ideas and other news, reach Obert at richard.obert@arizonarepublic.com or 602-316-8827. Follow him on Twitter @azc_obert.

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This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: GCU has chance to make big splash in first-ever game on ESPNU

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