Tom Chapman's goal during the NCAA tournament was simple to say but difficult to execute. Survive and advance. It doesn't matter if you cruise by 40 points or if you relinquish several double-digit leads and then have to rely on a broken play and an off-balance, double-clutch bank shot with 6 seconds left to secure the win. Just survive and advance.
Gannon has advanced to the Sweet 16, but it doesn't ring right to use the word "sweet" after a stressful 67-65 Atlantic Regional semifinal victory over the never-say-die Alderson-Broaddus Battlers. Never was a team's nickname more appropriate. Every time the Knights pushed their second-half lead to double digits, A-B would get a score and then get a stop. Seeing their exasperated fans still staring into the Hammermill Center rafters 10 minutes after the barnburner, you couldn't help but feel for them.
A couple Gannon fans said to me after the game they couldn't understand why the Knights didn't adjust to A-B's stifling 1-3-1 half court zone trap. It's not as easy as they make it look on the TV telestrator. (Trust me -- I was a color man for 9 years.) The media's words can't do justice to how difficult it is for Gannon to make the right adjustments. Let me try my best.
The adjustment Gannon would have to make is growing their guards a few inches. With 6-foot-4 Terrell Eargle at the point of the zone, Gannon's 5-foot-11 tandem of Joe Lindsey and Cory Knight couldn't throw over him to the middle of the floor (the free throw line) which is the 1-3-1's weakness. So, Gannon's ballhandlers were forced to the sideline and attempted to attack the zone's gaps. A-B's defensive wings were either trapping the ball or making the GU wings catch their entry pass 25 to 30 feet from the basket. That's too far away to shoot or throw a decent post-entry pass. The only Knights open were Kyle Goldcamp on the baseline or GU's opposite guard ... which required little Lindsey to attempt a pass over taller Terrell. That's where the Knights committed most of their turnovers tonight.
And because of the stellar defensive job Knight and Lindsey plus Pierre Howard were doing on all-WVIAC guards Eargle (only 9 points on 2-for-9 shooting), Stan Hall (12 points, 11 below his glossy 23.3 average), and Sam Liggins (2-of-8 shooting totalling 5 points, 13 below his average), John Reilly wasn't about to change his lineup. So Reilly (plus 2,500 of his closest friends in the Hammermill Center) held their breath and counted on the Gannon defense to hold off A-B just long enough to survive and advance.
I'm glad there's a day off between the semifinal and the championship game. I could use the rest.
Special thanks to my brother Rob for the "survive and advance" headline. He said that to me immediately after the game while my head was still throbbing/spinning from the frantic finish.