Dee Barnes and the T-Birds are looking to go to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 22 years. Courtesy Western Athletic Conference.

After Wild Semifinals, GCU, SUU to Play for WAC Title

If you missed the WAC men’s basketball semifinal games on Friday, you missed out on one helluva show.

First it was Kobe Knox hitting five first half 3-pointers. Then, it was Qua Grant putting Sam Houston on his back to give the Bearkats a halftime lead. Back and forth things went in the first semifinal. With 3:24 to play, the play of the game took place. Sam Houston led by three points and Damon Nicholas Jr. just came down with an offensive rebound for the Bearkats.

Qua Grant then beat his defender off the dribble, and looked like he might either hit a layup or at least get fouled. Neither happened. GCU got the rebound. And two seconds later, the first semifinal was tied at 69 with 3:17 to play.

After the teams traded baskets, Noah Baumann hit the shot of the game from the left wing. Baumann’s 3-pointer, GCU’s 16th of the game, gave the Lopes a 76-73 lead. It was basically the dagger in a 78-75 win over Sam Houston.

In the nightcap, the unimaginable took place. Like, seriously, it was something out of a ‘Glory Road’ or ‘Hoosiers’ movie.

Southern Utah trailed by 23 points with 15:42 to play against Utah Valley. However, when Tevian Jones hit a 3-pointer with five seconds left while getting fouled, you knew by the eruption at Orleans Arena this was no movie. Jones sank the free throw to complete the miraculous comeback. What fans don’t/won’t remember is just how close Utah Valley came to creating an eruption of its own.

Justin Harmon was wide open with a chance to win the ball game as time expired. However, Harmon’s layup attempt was a little too hard. When it rolled off the front of the rim, it sent the SUU faithful into an even bigger frenzy.

Two very wild ways to make it to the WAC Tournament Championship Game.

Yet, here we are.

Lopes vs. T-Birds.

Trip the NCAA Tournament on the line.

Purple vs. Red.

Ray Harrison vs. Tevian Jones.

Bryce Drew vs. Todd Simon.

GCU made it to Saturday with dramatic wins over UT Arlington, Seattle U, and Sam Houston. Southern Utah comes after comeback wins over in-state rivals Utah Tech and Utah Valley.

The Lopes won the WAC Tournament in 2021. Southern Utah is in its first season in the WAC. The T-Birds have not won a conference tournament since 2001.

GCU has youth as Walt Ellis is the lone senior and Noah Baumann is a graduate transfer. Todd Simon has five seniors who have put Southern Utah on the map with three straight 20-win seasons.

10 days ago, GCU beat Southern Utah in Cedar City. The T-Birds jumped out to a 21-4 lead. However, the Lopes made adjustments, Ray Harrison came to life, and GCU left Cedar City with an 83-78 win.

Ray Harrison had 29 points against the T-Birds in the win. After a 38-point night in the tourney opener, Harrison has been relatively quiet the past two games.

SUU has had a more balanced offensive attack in its two WAC Tournament games. In the comeback win over Utah Tech, the T-Birds had six players in double figures. Against Utah Valley, the T-Birds had six players in double figures.

There is no New Mexico State standing in the way of GCU. The Lopes have faced the Aggies three times for a WAC title and went 2-1. GCU lost to the Aggies in the WAC semifinals in 2022. Can GCU get back to the NCAA Tournament?

For Todd Simon, with his veteran group, playing in a town where he got his first head coaching job, could this be the year SUU goes to The Dance?

Considering what has transpired over the past week at the WAC Tournament, are fans in store for another wild finish on Saturday night to cap an amazing week of basketball?

Perhaps Tevian Jones and Ray Harrison will give us that show. Or, perhaps, unsung heroes like Kobe Knox and Chance McMillian will do something big. There is always Harrison Butler, Cam Healy and Maizen Fausett for Southern Utah, as well.

But, it may come down to SUU big Jason Spurgin and GCU forward Gabe McGlothan.

A trip to the NCAA Tournament awaits. Who will go dancing?

Tip is set for 8:30 p.m. PST on ESPN2.

Late nights on the West Coast are a blast. Don’t miss it!

About the author

Kyle McDonald

Love everything about WAC Hoops so decided I wanted to write more about it and cover this amazing conference that just keeps getting better. Follow us on Twitter @wachoopsdigest for information, game analysis and much more.

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