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Mar 20, 2024 8:54 am

Tyon Grant-Foster, Grand Canyon aim to subdue Saint Mary’s

Tyon Grant-Foster

Grand Canyon star Tyon Grant-Foster has faced challenges that far surpass trying to pull off a March Madness upset.

But Grant-Foster is ready to help the 12th-seeded Antelopes (29-4) seek their first NCAA Tournament victory on Friday night when they face fifth-seeded Saint Mary’s (26-7) in a West Region first-round game at Spokane, Wash.

Grant-Foster energizes Grand Canyon with a 19.8 scoring average and was named the Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year in his first season in the program.

But it is talk of his heart that makes this season’s accomplishments more impressive.

The heart that beats.

Grant-Foster played one season of junior-college basketball at Indian Hills Community College and then transferred to Kansas and played sparingly.

He transferred again, this time to DePaul, but he collapsed in the locker room at halftime of his Blue Demons’ debut on Nov. 10, 2021, and had to be revived. His heart again was shocked back into rhythm three times during the ambulance ride. Grant-Foster spent 10 days in the hospital.

When he collapsed again several months later during a pickup game and subsequently underwent a second heart operation, it seemed basketball might no longer be an option.

But 16 months after the initial incident, Grant-Foster was cleared by a doctor in March 2023. Bryce Drew was one of the few coaches willing to take a chance on him, and now Grand Canyon is playing in its third NCAA Tournament partly due to Grant-Foster’s talent.

“It’s really gratifying at the same time because of everything I’ve been through and now it’s here,” Grant-Foster said. “It’s a surreal feeling.”

Grand Canyon, which also features Ray Harrison (13.7 ppg) and Gabe McGlothan (13.0 ppg, team-leading 7.3 rebounds), has become a trendy pick to record the 5-12 upset.

“This team has really been motivated all year,” Drew said. “We’ve had a lot of goals. This team still has more goals that they want to accomplish.”

Saint Mary’s has won 23 of its past 25 games and ranks second nationally in scoring defense at an average of 58.7 points per game. Veteran coach Randy Bennett is an expert at milking possessions and getting the slower pace he prefers for his team.

But Bennett certainly is expecting a test from the Antelopes.

“I know it’s cliche, but it’s one game at a time,” Bennett said. “These teams are tough. We’re definitely not looking past Grand Canyon.”

The Gaels are in the NCAA Tournament for a third straight season for the first time in school history.

Saint Mary’s lost in the second round both times — to UCLA in 2022 and to eventual national champion UConn last season.

Feeling the Gaels were primed for a deeper run, guard Alex Ducas decided to return for a fifth season of eligibility.

“It’s something we talked about, me and Coach B, before I came back,” Ducas said. “No player here had ever done it, no team had ever done it, so I really wanted to be a part of that. I saw the skill that we had and the determination.

“We have the group for it — we’re talented, we’re disciplined, we’re tough. That’s the goal.”

Ducas (10.1 ppg) is one of five double-digit scorers on the Gaels. He is tied for the team lead of 80 3-pointers with leading scorer Aidan Mahaney (13.9 ppg).

Grand Canyon lost NCAA Tournament games to Iowa in 2021 and Gonzaga last season.

The winner of Friday’s game will face either No. 4-seeded Alabama or No. 13 Charleston on Sunday.

–Field Level Media

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