Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Gannon 55, West Chester 54

Please post your comments about today's and Wednesday's game below. That way, you can share your thoughts during or right after the games, and I'll just enter my post over this old one so my game-related thoughts and your comments are in the same entry. For live stats and game notes from GannonSports.com, just click here.

Go Knights!

Tuesday: Gannon 83, East Stroudsburg 79 2OT

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Redeem Team, Part I

I don't know if John Reilly or any Gannon upperclassmen talked about last season's 85-75 loss to Shepherd (W.V.) before today's 74-56 shellacking of the Rams at the Hammermill Center, but it sure seemed to me the Knights played like they had something to prove. A few statistics and one anecdote made me think this was more than just another game for GU:

* Gannon held Shepherd 22 points below its season scoring average of 78.3 ... and a whopping 29 fewer points than the 2013 loss. The Rams didn't just look uncomfortable; at times, they looked like they wanted to be back on the bus.
* 6-foot-6 junior Morgan McDonald entered the game as the Rams' leading scorer (19.6 ppg) while attempting 13 field goals per game. McDonald finished with 7 points and just 6 field goal attempts in 31 minutes. He looked completely overwhelmed by Gannon's stronger and more athletic forwards.
* Gannon outrebounded Shepherd, 30-21, but that's commonplace for a Reilly team. I was stunned the Knights attempted 16 more field goals (57 to 41) for the game. No one on the SU team attempted more than 6 field goals while Gannon guards Adam Blazek (11-for-17) and Girbran Smith (7-for-16) got open looks all afternoon. Those seniors played like they wanted to beat Shepherd by a hundred.

Blazek turned in his best game of this young season. He wasn't just good -- he went off for 27 very loud points. After tallying 12 in the first half, including a stinging right-corner three at the buzzer, he was perfect in the second period. Blazek scored 15 points after halftime, making all 6 of his field goal attempts including 3 three-pointers. Blazek was hounded most of the afternoon by Steve Nash wannabe Skyler Roman, who must have made a few snide comments to the Gannon senior earlier in the game. With about 3 minutes to play and Gannon in the midst of a 10-0 run that pushed the lead to 26, Blazek held the ball on the right wing, guarded there by Roman. Blazek jab-stepped at Roman once ... twice ... then a third time before sticking a three in Roman's eye. After the shot zipped through the net, Blazek made a comment towards Roman, barked at him again when he crossed midcourt, then blurted out "Yeah, boy!" to him after a Shepherd turnover seconds later. Roman was promptly taken out of the game then Blazek buried another three which sent the Gannon bench into a frenzy.

Last year when these teams met, "SU" stood for Shepherd University. Today, because of Gannon's suffocating defense and Blazek's hot shooting, those letters represented "Shut Up," which is exactly what the Knights did to a pretty talented ballclub.

GU more than made up for last year's loss to Shepherd, and they'll have chances next week to redeem themselves for last season's two playoff defeats. On Tuesday Gannon hosts 5-2 East Stroudsburg, who ended GU's 2013-14 season in the second round of the NCAA's, followed by a Wednesday contest vs. 3-5 West Chester, who won the 2014 PSAC semifinal game 77-76 in overtime. Stroud and West Chester also drilled Gannon during the regular season last year ... which I'm sure Reilly and the Gannon veterans remember all too well.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Hey IUP -- Who's Your Daddy?

Even though Gannon outlasted #5 Indiana (Pa.) Saturday night in overtime, 61-56, I'm still not sure who is the better team. But I know for certain who is the tougher club and who's currently the boss of the PSAC West after winning the fourth straight head-to-head matchup between these programs. The Knights pummeled the Crimson Hawks on the boards, 41-20, and it looked a whole lot worse than that. A couple IUP fans screamed bloody murder the entire game (moron ... I mean, more on them later) over the physicality of the Knight forwards, but it was plain ol' rough-and-tumble PSAC West basketball between the blocks.

Indiana produced more three-pointers, free throws, assists, and steals than Gannon, but GU owned IUP in the paint. When Raphell Thomas-Edwards posted up and scored early on, the thought "feed him all night long" entered my mind. Thomas-Edwards  entered the game averaging just 9.7 ppg but ended the evening with game highs of 22 points and 12 rebounds. Indiana's best post player was Drake transfer Daddy Ugbede, who finished with 13 points in just 24 minutes of play. Initially I wondered why IUP coach Joe Lombardi used situation substitutions with Ugbede most of the second half and OT, inserting Daddy for offensive possessions and replacing him on defense. When IUP big Devon Cottrell fouled out with 1:48 left in OT, I learned the reason behind Lombardi's substitution pattern. Thomas-Edwards scored under the basket at 1:13 to give Gannon a 57-56 lead, grabbed a defensive rebound on Adam Blazek's first (and very timely) blocked shot of the year, then tipped in a Blazek miss at the 19-second mark to push the margin to 3.

Ballgame.

Gannon was so dominant inside, they corralled 17 offensive rebounds to Indiana's 16 defensive boards. Lombardi sounded bewildered and defeated in his post-game comments to the Indiana Gazette: "We had a problem with them last year and I thought we got a little tougher. But when a team doubles you up in rebounding, it’s not just that they got 20 more rebounds, they had two-thirds of the rebounds. We won six games in 2007-08 and I don’t think that happened then. We’ve always had a certain amount of toughness and focus in that area, and this is hard to believe. … It’s not only physical but a mental competitive spirit that I have to generate in some of our guys. Some guys show up with it on your doorstep, and some guys don’t."

This win doesn't vault Gannon into the Division II Top 25, the top 8 in the region, or seal the PSAC playoffs. Heck, I think Gannon will be an underdog Saturday when they host 5-2 Shepherd (W.V.). But it certainly was satisfying to go toe-to-toe with a DII and Atlantic Region heavyweight and best them for the fourth consecutive game.

Other thoughts on the Gannon/IUP game:
* If you don't understand the "Who's Your Daddy?" headline reference, click here for the explanation. It has nothing to do with biological parenthood, by the way. That would be weird.

* How about that crazy left baseline jumper by Girbran Smith that gave Gannon a 51-49 lead with 23 seconds to play in regulation? He not only had a player draped all over him but he was drifting over the baseline. A lefty taking that shot would have a 0% chance at scoring a field goal, let alone hitting the rim.

* I loved the game day program photo of Porter, so it's accompanying this post. Does that kid always have energy or what!

* I mentioned earlier the couple -- they were either husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend -- who supported IUP by whining at the officials all evening. OK -- that's a slight overstatement. They actually sniped for "only" 39 minutes and 56 seconds of the 45-minute game with statements like "#32 actually has 10 fouls but you called only 5!" when A'Darius Porter fouled out and "#0's pushing, #0's pushing, #0's pushing, watch #0! Why won't you watch #0?"

These fans took 5 minutes off at the end of the first half when Gannon's Tony Boykins committed an offensive foul, Gannon's seventh team foul, and the female fan shrieked, "One-and-one! We should be shooting! It's one-and-one! Ref! It's one-and-one!" I don't know if she got a look, a nudge, or a comment from her husband/boyfriend/scream buddy, but they shut up for the final five minutes of the half because you don't shoot free throws after player control fouls. If you're going to scream your head off at the officials, at least know the fundamental rules of the game! It would be like me going to a squash match and yelling, "That should be a counter drop! Why didn't you call a counter drop!"

My true advice to these fans is how about you don't scream your head off and actually enjoy the game -- and allow others around you to enjoy the game as well. I actually moved my seat from the stands to an open spot at the press table to get away from this obnoxious pair, but unfortunately the press table isn't located in Rhode Island. Several Gannon staffers seated by me repeatedly turned around in shock to look at the loudmouths. One person said to me, "I've heard enough stupid comments tonight to last a lifetime."

Moments after IUP's desperation three fell out of bounds with 4 seconds remaining, I turned to see how the pair of blabbermouths were reacting. I saw nothing except empty seats. Thank you for your support and have a safe ride home. God help the trooper who pulls them over for speeding.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Trying Victory

All season long, we've credited Gannon for its effort (especially on defense) and lamented its offensive output. Tonight Gannon registered a season-high for points in its 68-54 win vs. Clarion tonight, but it was anything but a smooth ride getting there. Against Clarion's pressure defense, Gannon committed a mind-numbing 25 turnovers, oftentimes on successive possessions.

In fact, after both teams kicked the ball around 25 times in the first half (14 turnovers for GU, 11 for CU), they combined for 4 more in the opening 39 seconds of the second stanza. As Golden89 pointed out in the comments section of this post, the teams combined for 45 turnovers, 45 fouls, and 45 free throw attempts. When the Gannon coaching staff breaks down film from this game, I suggest they imbibe a few of these to make it more enjoyable.

One of the most fascinating aspects of tonight's game was Gannon's lineup. Freshman guard Adam Holm-Weber, who played just 30 minutes over the first 5 games and had yet to score, got the start and played 38 minutes. He didn't leave the floor even when his right leg cramped up during the second half. Jean Yves Toupane missed the last two games and didn't play the first 27 minutes vs. Clarion, but he played the final 13 and hit double digits with 10 points. Former starter Tony Boykins was one of the final Gannon players to sub in, but because of aggressive play on offense, he totaled 10 points and 16 minutes.

Matthew Dogan, a starter during the Gary Miller Classic where he logged 30 and 35 minutes a game, played just 3 tonight. Starter Raphell Thomas-Edwards only played 12 minutes. Foul trouble reduced his playing time, but Reilly decided not to reinsert him in the lineup late in the second half because Toupane was effective. And the way A'Darius Porter was rebounding -- 16 boards, 8 of them on offense -- there was no way he was going to sit on the bench for extended minutes.

Reilly's basic game plan seemed to be he was going to throw everyone on the floor and go with whoever was getting the job done. If you charted his substitution pattern, it would look like a Jackson Pollock painting (that's the image accompanying this blog post, for you non-humanities majors). A pattern may develop eventually, but for now the 3-4 Knights are in scramble mode, trying everything -- and certainly trying hard -- to develop consistency on offense.

Other thoughts and observations on the Gannon/Clarion game:
* I wrote this before the game: Clarion enters tonight's PSAC contest averaging 77.8 ppg and 16.8 offensive rpg. I'm not one for predictions, but I'll go out on a limb and take the under on both those statistics vs. Gannon. The Knights are ranked #2 in the country in defense, allowing only 54.3 ppg. Gannon held the Golden Eagles 23.8 points below their scoring average and limited them to just 7 offensive boards.

* Gannon murdered Clarion on the glass, posting a 41-22 advantage. Porter was an absolute monster inside. When I came home from the game, my wife was watching Wolfman on the SyFy channel, and I thought is was FOX 66 local news highlights of Porter going after a loose ball. If there's a hoops version of Marshawn Lynch in beast mode, Porter's got it.

* Gannon wasn't the only one using an unusual lineup. The Golden Eagles announced Ralph Naples as a starter despite him playing just 4 minutes in the 4 prior games. Naples ended the game having played only 5 minutes while registering 2 fouls and 2 turnovers. (Side note: Who was the last guy named "Ralph" to play at the Audi? I don't know either.)

* I give the Clarion team an A for effort tonight. I don't agree with their helter-skelter gambling defense, but at least they are trying. Past CU teams showed up at the Hammermill and left their desire for the game on the bus. First-year coach Marcess Williams preached intensity and energy the entire game.

Friday, November 28, 2014

NCAA-Caliber Defense, Metro League Offense

Before I played for Gannon, most of the time I spent in the Hammermill Center was growing up watching Metro League high school basketball doubleheaders. I was among the 2,800 fans who would see McDowell vs. Prep at 7:00 p.m. ... then I was one the 110 or so folks who would stick around to watch Whitey Kolakowski's East High Warriors scrap against Jim Marnella's Tech Centaurs at 8:30.

In addition to the size and athleticism of the players, the giant difference I noticed between college basketball and high school hoops at the Audi back then was the shooting. In warmups, it seemed that Gannon and every opponent hit at least 80% of their jumpers. Even the benchwarmers -- swish, swish, swish -- with near-flawless form . The high school teams might make only 40% of their uncontested perimeter shots. I recall seeing a Tech benchwarmer nearly bust his nose when a pre-game shot attempt caromed hard off the bottom of the rim.

Gannon's current shooting reminds me of the Metro League teams. Clang, clang, clang went the trolley -- and that's also the noise GU fans have heard most often when their team launches a jump shot over the first half dozen games. During Friday's 47-45 loss to LeMoyne, the Knights shot just 6-of-29 on three-pointers and just 31% for the game. During a 10-minute stretch in the first half, they recorded just 2 points and nearly duplicated that with an 8-minute, 2-point drought in the second period. Oftentimes that's a result of turnovers, but Gannon committed just 13 vs. the Dolphins.

The Knights finished with their best shooting chart of the year in the 73-66 loss vs. Alderson-Broaddus -- 21-of-44 from the field (47.7%), but that's a little deceiving. GU started the game 8-for-9, which means they made only 37% of their field goal attempts after the fast start.

This cause of this problem multidimensional. For one, you have to make your open shots. GU had plenty of open looks against zones this weekend, but misfired on most of their attempts. Lack of aggressiveness is another issue. Too many players don't look to attack the gaps when they have the ball. When the Knights get the ball in the paint, they rarely have uncontested layups or one-on-one post moves. Forwards shoot over 2 or 3 players, and even the most muscle-bound basketball players can't overcome that. Finally, it's amazing how this team can score when they are desperate -- trailing by double-digits. That sense of urgency has to be present on the offensive end from the opening tip and not wane until the final buzzer. The Knights need to push the ball and look to score quickly every chance they get.

All of this is way easier said then done, especially when you're busting your butt on the defensive end like Gannon. But if this offense doesn't improve, we'll see more streaks of 2 wins across 6 games.

Other observations on the weekend:
As I noted before this weekend's Gary Miller Classic, Gannon is one of the best defensive teams in the country, allowing just 51.5 ppg through 4 games. But as anyone over 12 years old knows, statistics can be misleading. For example, Gannon could have played all super methodical opponents which would keep the scoring down. That's not the case here. Following are scoring numbers on the 2014 Gannon opponents prior to the Alderson-Broaddus game (more on why that game is an outlier in a moment). I will list in order the team's season average in games not against Gannon, the number of points they scored vs. Gannon, and then the difference.
     * Glenville State: 87.5 ppg, 57 vs. GU = 30.5 difference
     * Charleston: 71.7 ppg, 54 vs. GU = 17.7 difference
     * Slippery Rock: 69.0 ppg, 51 vs. GU = 18.0 difference
     * Mercyhurst: 66.3 ppg, 44 vs. GU = 22.3 difference
     * LeMoyne: 70.0 ppg, 47 vs. GU = 23.0 difference

*  The stat line for A-B reserve guard Paul Williamson was pathetic entering the Gannon game: 4 games played, 23 total minutes, 0 points on 0-for-5 shooting, including 0-for-3 on three-pointers. I'm guessing he didn't make Gannon's scouting report with that chart. So what did he do vs. the Knights? Williamson, who sat out the past two seasons after playing in 20 games for West Virginia University, blew up for 23 points on 7-for-9 shooting from trey land. Incredible. The Battler fans around me were shocked Williamson had that in him.

* The Gary Miller Classic schedule followed the same pattern as last year: the Knights opened with LeMoyne Friday before tangling with Alderson-Broaddus Saturday. For recaps of last year's games -- I forgot how entertaining/frustrating they were -- click on the links below:
* LeMoyne 65, Gannon 62 -- "Operation Desperation"
* Gannon 55, Alderson-Broaddus 54 -- "Sticking To The Script"

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Miracle At The MAC: Astonishing Comeback, Blazek's Three Stun Mercyhurst

I was thinking this morning that while Gannon senior All-American Adam Blazek isn't conducting a farewell tour like Derek Jeter, he is playing his final game in some gymnasiums. His final shot at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center will be remembered for a long time to come. Moments after nearly losing his balance, the ball, and the game, Blazek drained a right-wing three, propelling Gannon to an improbable 46-44 win at Mercyhurst Saturday afternoon.

I've seen a lot of basketball during my nearly 45 years on the planet, but I have never seen a contest that resembled today's game flow. The Lakers did not score during the first 9:32 of the game and then were held to just three points over the game's final 11:21. During the 20 minutes in between, Mercyhurst scorched the nets for 41 points and had their arch rivals all but buried, leading the Knights 41-25 with 10 minutes to play. At that point the mood in the MAC was that it would take a small miracle for the Knights to get to 40 total points, let alone with the game. A fan sitting in front of me even said, "A 1-3 start -- that's real impressive."

GU benefited because of timely shooting from Girbran Smith -- his only points of the game were consecutive three-pointers with under two minutes to play -- and a tentative approach by Mercyhurst. As Gannon inched closer and closer, I said several times about the Lakers down the stretch, "Nobody wants to shoot it." It was like the 'Hurst shifted from attack-and-score mode to playing Hot Potato. Rhythm jumpers that found nothing but net were replaced by line-drive threes that clanked off the rim (and a couple times the bankboard) after hesitating to shoot.

Had Blazek missed his clutch three, there would have been plenty to gripe about: a 1-3 start, falling behind by double-digits again, more miserable first half shooting (21%), an airball on a free throw, the lame atmosphere at the half-filled MAC. But skip all that for now. Be thankful -- it's that time of year, right? -- that we are fortunate to have witnessed one of the most memorable shots in Gannon basketball history.

Other thoughts on the GU/MU game:
* The only other game I could think of similar to this one in multiple ways was Gannon's 69-64 win at Mercyhurst on Jan. 30, 1990, my sophomore season. The favored Knights -- we advanced to the Elite 8 that season -- trailed a woeful but hot-shooting Hurst team by 13 with 8 minutes to play until a furious comeback sent the mostly maroon-wearing crowd home happy. Bill Kalbaugh, who had been unjustly fired by Mercyhurst after the previous season and was now a GU assistant, was the subject of head coach Bob Dukiet's post-game victory speech. As our team cheered then started to settle down, an exhilarated Dukiet shouted, "Billy ... Billy ... for God to do that to them, they must have really ****ed you over!"

* I know league schedules are difficult to piece together, but the PSAC should never, ever slate a Gannon/Mercyhurst game while the schools are on break. There were no cheerleaders, no dance teams, and no football teams in the stands to root against their rival. I recall when some Gannon/Hurst games were played at the Tullio Convention Center to accommodate the throng of fans. Today's game would have fit inside the Mercyhurst Prep gymnasium.

* I know I mentioned this last year, but it bears worth repeating. Do they not keep extra scoreboard light bulbs around the MAC? Several bulbs were burnt out, giving the impression that what goes on in that gym isn't all that important. Smith's big three with 1:00 left looked on the East scoreboard like it was scored with !:00 to go.

* Can the PSAC fine players for flopping? The Lakers did that several times and drew charges against the Knights today, but James Ewing's effort to try to draw a whistle on a Raphell Thomas-Edwards screen (you can watch it here at the 2:40 mark) with just over a minute to play is pretty blatant. If the baseline official would have been suckered by Ewing's pratfall, John Reilly might have thrown him into a snowbank.

* I didn't see the officials waving off Laker Callon Dailey's last-gasp attempt to tie the game and his field goal try is listed in the official stats, but it should not have counted had the shot gone in. I can say that with certainty because the video on the Gannon website (see the screen grab on this page) shows the clock at 0.0 and the lights on behind the bankboard. Yes, it looks like there might be 0.9 on the clock, but it's actually that MAC light bulb problem I mentioned earlier.

* With UPJ, Edinboro, and Mercyhurst losing today plus IUP having played only one league game, Gannon is alone in first place with a 2-0 record. Who said starting PSAC play early was a problem?

* My 9-year-old daughter Evelyn attended the matinee contest, so I asked if she wanted to write today's blog post instead of me. She typed something for me, and I promised to include it here: "Little cute puppies!!!!!!!!!!!"

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

They Are Who We Thought They Were

I thought I would find Gannon fans semi-panicking during the pre-game and halftime of Gannon's 64-51 win over Slippery Rock Wednesday evening, but I was dead wrong. Entering the game an uncharacteristic 0-2 and tied at halftime after the offense sputtered to only 26 points, Golden Knight fans I interacted with were confident their club would be fine. The work ethic and talent are certainly there, they told me, and it's just a matter of time before shots fall and GU picks up a W.

That exactly what happened in the second half. Rich Austin hit the glass and contributed 10 points, complementing Girbran Smith's 11 points on 5-of-6 shooting. I found great joy watching Austin and his teammates celebrate the redshirt senior's return to the court. After playing just 8 minutes combined in the two season-opening contests, Austin broke open the SRU game open with 8 consecutive close-range points to make a 32-30 nailbiter a more comfortable 10-point advantage. After his third basket, which resulted in a quick Rock timeout, Austin let out a primal scream and was mobbed by his teammates. (You can watch it on this video beginning around the 2:30 mark. I also like Coach Reilly exhorting his team to stop their celebrating and get to the bench. Now!)

I don't know how many games this Gannon team is going to win -- maybe 17, maybe 20, or maybe more. Last night showed us they will be fun to watch if you like intense basketball. They won't be a thing of beauty on offense, but they will crash the boards hard and hit the floor even harder when there's a loose ball.

Other thoughts on the satisfying win:
* The homes for Gannon's starting lineup were the Bahamas, Senegal, England, Georgia ... and Erie.

* Slippery Rock didn't commit its first foul until the 10:17 mark of the first half, but I noted that SRU head coach Kevin Reynolds' first complaint to the officials was registered just 24 seconds into the game, and he pretty much kept up that pace the entire contest. I've seen some annoying, whiny coaches in my day, and Reynolds ranks near the top. I don't think all evening two possessions went by that he didn't gripe at the officials about something. I'm not exaggerating with that statistic. He reminds me of a 4-year-old who needs a nap but refuses to lie down.

* Gannon has held its three opponents -- three quality Division II opponents -- to 57, 54, and 51 points. Bob Dukiet would be very proud of his protege.

* I'm not much for predictions, but I'll bet you a dozen donuts Slippery Rock's Antonio Butler does not repeat as PSAC West player of the week. Entering the game averaging 13.0 ppg and 9.5 rpg, Butler left the Hammermill scoreless (on an 0-for-8 shooting chart) and with only 2 rebounds in 19 minutes. Late in the game, he committed an offensive foul -- which Reynolds protested of course -- out of frustration.

* Quite a Jekyll-and-Hyde game for A'Darius Porter: 4 turnovers and just 2 points on 1-of-7 shooting, but a game-high 12 rebounds, none of them easy. Nobody plays harder between the blocks. Porter went after a loose ball with such reckless abandon, I swear he hit his chin on the floor ... then sprinted down court to set more screens.

* Newcomer Marcus Jones' stat line was quiet -- 0 points, 1 assist, 1 turnover in 11 minutes -- but his on-ball defending impressed me. Over the past three seasons, Adam Blazek has encountered foul trouble guarding the opponent's main ballhandler. Jones showed last night he can fill that role in spurts.

* If you don't understand what my headline to this post references, click here for the YouTube video. Classic.