After Gannon's two games this week -- Monday's 75-66 handling of Atlantic Region #5 Indiana (Pa.) and Saturday's 58-50 stomach-churner at Mercyhurst -- I drove home in freezing weather without ever having to turn on my truck's heater. Close games that determine a first-round PSAC bye and possible NCAA berth have a way of raising your body temperature far beyond normal. Even when the Knights took a 20-point lead against the first-place Crimson Hawks, my heart was still racing. You can imagine my stress level when IUP cut that lead to three with 44 seconds left.
So now Gannon (18-8/14-6 PSAC) heads into the final week of the regular season two home wins away from earning a bye, and they're riding an 11-game win streak in the Hammermill Center. On paper, Wednesday against 3-23/0-20 PSAC West cellar dweller Clarion should be a walkover and Saturday vs. Atlantic Region #10 Slippery Rock (20-7/14-7) should be a war. If the Knights lose that one, they'll slip to third place for a first-round slog vs. sixth-place Mercyhurst, which would be both disappointing and and dangerous. But if Gannon pulls off another perfect week, it's back to scoreboard watching for all of us.
Other Knight Knotes from this week:
- We've been tracking Gannon's defense in five-minute increments all season long, so why stop now? Here are the numbers against IUP: 1st half -- 6, 8, 6, 6; 2nd half -- 6, 16, 8, 10. Except for the obvious blemish that allowed the Hawks to cut Gannon's second half lead from 49-32 to 54-48, that's insanely consistent defensive production. The splits from Saturday were the typical Mercyhurst/Gannon run through the mud, except for the frenetic final five minutes: 1st half -- 2, 9, 4, 11; 2nd half -- 7, 2, 0, 15.
- While Monday's contest against IUP had playoff intensity from the opening possession, Saturday's game at the Mercyhurst Athletic Center was oddly subdued. When Zay Jackson stepped to the foul line for two crucial shots in the final minute of play, the building was completely silent. I've heard louder pre-game moments of silence.
- Evan Phoenix brought his A-game out against Indiana, finishing with 17 points and 7 rebounds on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and a 5-of-6 chart at the line. He's usually not the most aggressive player, but several times he got into physical tangles with Indiana players after the whistle blew. In short, he played like someone out there was talking junk about his mother.
- John Reilly's defense isn't a surprise -- he might actually have a tattoo saying "Half Court Man or Bust" -- but he did make a key adjustment against IUP. Instead of hedging on all ball screens like normal, the Knights often switched on screens which seemed to frustrate their opponents. The Knights went back to their normal game plan vs. Mercyhurst and held the Lakers without a field goal for a 14:43 stretch in the second half.
- The Lakers led Gannon 26-22 at the half despite shooting just 30% from the field and being outrebounded 25-10. Gannon committed 12 turnovers to the Lakers' 2. I asked about a refund at halftime, but the administrator I talked with called security instead.
- Two things you can count on every year at the MAC: a two-way defensive struggle and malfunctioning light bulbs in the scoreboard. Ironically, one of the few corporate sponsors with signage in the gymnasium is an electrician ... with a banner hanging next to one of the scoreboards. If I hired them to work on my house, I'd have to assume the bathroom lights working would be a 50/50 proposition. Isn't there some rich Mercyhurst benefactor who could introduce the campus to the world of LED?
- It seemed like the Mercyhurst public address announcer was caught off guard when Gannon freshman Cyril Ogbuagu checked into the game. The announcer said (and what I think was going through his mind is noted in italics) something like: "Cyril O my gosh I've never seen a name like this before gobu rob you."
- Gannon SSID (Super Sports Information Director) Dan Teliski did confirm with me that Ogbuagu is the first player in GU program history to have his name end in "gu." Teliski added that only one player in school history had his name begin with "gu," Brian Guest in 1960 when GU was GC.
- Kofi Mills has been snakebitten this season coming off the bench. Oftentimes he quickly commits a foul or makes a miscue before he breaks a sweat. Against the Lakers he immediately grabbed a rebound and then took a charge ... and then a teammate's airball hit him square on the top of his head. Mills struggled from the line all game (0-for-6) but his defense both on the block and on the perimeter against the Laker bigs keyed Gannon's second half stinginess.
- I hope Zay Jackson will be okay for Clarion after turning an ankle late against the Lakers. If he doesn't play, it won't be for lack of guts. Jackson got hurt colliding with the Hurst's Derrick Ellis (seconds before the Lakers missed a wide-open dunk that would have cut the deficit to one) and limped noticeably the remainder of the contest. Despite the obvious pain, Jackson defended on the final possessions and swished four straight free throws.