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Takeaways from GCU’s near comeback against Illinois

(AP Photo/Darryl Webb)

PHOENIX — Grand Canyon University guard Lorenzo Jenkins sized up a three as 7,500 fans shot up their hands in the air.

The ball splashed through and the arena exploded.

GCU trailed by as many 15 points in the second half against Illinois on Friday, but at that moment, the Lopes were down 70-63 with 5:35 left.

They were playing faster with a smaller lineup and the energy was up on the court and off of it.

“We have a real passionate coach (Dan Majerle), so when he gets going we get going,” freshman guard Jovan Blacksher Jr. said.

They decreased the deficit to four but failed to cut it to one possession.

GCU fell to the Fighting Illini 83-71 to drop to 0-2 on the season and 0-14 against power five schools since joining Division 1. But Majerle was proud of the fight shown by his team.

“Disappointed but proud of my guys,” Majerle said. “Our effort was great. They played with a lot of passion. It was a big step.”

Takeaways from Grand Canyon’s comeback efforts on Friday:

GCU’s lack of size was obvious and perhaps its downfall

GCU was flagrantly outsized and got torched on the boards.

The Illini doubled GCU’s rebounds 52-26 and had 20 offensive boards.

“We’ll work on gang rebounds, sometimes I saw guys leaking out, they’ve all got to get down there,” Majerle said. “It has got to be a gang mindset for all of our guys to get a rebound. I don’t care who you are, you better try and get 10 rebounds.”

Illinois center Kofi Cockburn grabbed 14 boards and bullied his way to 23 points.

He forced GCU big Alessandro Lever into foul trouble early, and Lever received his fifth foul with over 10 minutes left in the game.

Once he went out, the Antelopes had to spread the floor out, and it worked for a run late in the game.

But ultimately the size caught up with them defensively as Illinois scored three straight buckets to put the game away late.

GCU can shoot

This was a concern after GCU played Davenport to start the season.

The Antelopes made two threes out of a total of 19 on Tuesday, but righted that ship against Illinois.

They nailed eight threes on 19 attempts, with four different players connected from deep.

Jenkins and guard Isiah Brown led the way with three each.

The success outside created driving lanes inside, which was tough to defend for the Illini.

“They got going making threes which we knew they would and then they started driving and found a good matchup,” Illinois head coach Brad Underwood said.

Outside shots kept GCU in the game when Illinois went on runs that looked like they had the potential for a knockout punch.

The Lopes moved the ball well and found the outside shots they wanted, which was a great sign and a confidence booster.

“We had some drive-and-kicks, which helped and our shot selection was a lot better,” Majerle said.

Depth is an issue

For the second consecutive game, only six players played over 10 minutes. The bench scored six points against Davenport in the first game of the year. On Friday it was better with 10, but GCU is still clearly short on proven players.

The Lopes are awaiting two transfer students’ eligibility: guard Jaylen Fisher and forward Oscar Freyer. Until then, there could be some mixing in of new players to see if anyone sticks.

Freshman forward Bryce Okpah has played seven minutes in each of the team’s first two games, but he has yet to score.

Backup big man Louis Bangai made his season debut on Friday, but only played three minutes.

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