Friday, December 30, 2011

Where's Juan Rankin When You Need Him?

When Gannon loses a double-overtime game on a half-court heave like they did Friday night vs. Seton Hill, you'd think I'd feel awful. Surprisingly, I actually feel tremendous -- I witnessed one of the greatest games in the history of the legendary Porreco Cup. In the grand scheme of things, so what if Gannon came out on the short end, 103-100? Don't get me wrong. If this would have been an NCAA playoff game to end Gannon's season, I'd have jumped off Dobbins Landing into the bay before the teams made it back to their locker rooms.

Here's what I witnessed last night that I've never seen before and probably won't ever see again:
* A buzzer beater from just beyond midcourt (watch it here at the 1-minute mark) to win a tournament championship. It was awful for us Gannon fans, but incredible for SHU's Oliver McGlade. His Twitter feed shows this is the highlight of his athletic career. Good for him.
* A college tournament championship game where both teams reach the 100-point mark.
* A team rally on the road from 13 down with 5 minutes to play and from 6 down with under a minute to go to force OT.
* A team making 15-of-22 threes (68.2%), and getting hotter from behind the arc as the game wore on. Here's Seton Hill's 3-point shooting chart for the game: 1st half -- 5-of-9, 2nd half -- 5-of-7, OT -- 5-of-6.
* Oh, and they made all 8 of their free throw attempts, making their combined three-point and foul shot percentage a robust 76.7%. And they still needed 2 overtimes to dispose of the resilient Knights! When you shoot like that, you usually win going away.
* Andrew Cressler, Seton Hill's #3 scorer, played out of his mind for an incredible 46 minutes, scoring 27 points on 11-for-14 shooting. Through 8 games prior to the Porreco finals, he averaged just 11 ppg was 8-for-19 on threes. He made all 5 of his treys against the Knights, most of them in the clutch.
* The final play of a game at the Hammermill hitting #2 on ESPN SportsCenter's top plays the next day. Kudos to Gannon SID Dan Teliski for the link.

I'm looking at the Gannon media guide right now, and I can't think of a better Porreco final I've witnessed. Michael Hammond ripped Gannon's hearts out in 1986 with a 37-point performance including a game-winner at the horn. Gannon's loss to Northern Kentucky in 2000 when Craig Conley went wild from every spot on the floor is also one for the ages.

The Porreco championship that might compete with Friday's classic was Gannon's 54-51 upset of eventual national champion Virginia Union in 1991. Highlights included a 270-degree dunk by Derrick Price to open the game, two last-second baskets to close the first half and give Gannon a halftime lead, a clutch jumper by VUU All-American guard Walter Hurd to tie the game at 51, and Juan Rankin's heave at the buzzer to send the capacity crowd into a frenzy.

I still get chills thinking about that game even though it was -- gulp! -- exactly 20 years ago. Maybe it was fate that McGlade wins the tournament on the same hoop as Rankin did two decades apart. Yes, part of me would have preferred Gannon cruise to an unremarkable 10-point victory and sport a 7-3 record instead of an unimpressive 6-4 mark. The wiser part of me realizes that I had the privilege to witness an incredible game that will never be forgotten by those lucky enough to attend.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Athletic, Scrappy, Unselfish, AND Relentless

I'm not going to say much about Gannon's 94-62 annihilation of Malone in the opening round of the Porreco Cup because we'll have plenty of time to talk after the championship game vs. Seton Hill. Also I don't want to jinx the Knights by gushing about them only to watch them lay an egg in the finals.

So I used the headline of this post to gush. The Knights are a combination of those four attributes: Athletic, Scrappy, Unselfish, AND Relentless. Talented teams usually don't get the dirty work done or don't need to be hard workers. The underdogs are usually the ones diving on the floor and sharing the ball in order to maximize their talent. But the Knights showed against Malone they can do all four.

Adam Blazek was a perfect example of this. He led all scorers with 21 points on 10-of-16 shooting and topped all defenders with 9 steals. His play of the night might have been saving a ball on the sidelines, falling into the Pioneer bench, zipping back onto the floor, immediately picking off a pass, and then going the distance for a layup. Blazek also triggered one of the prettiest fastbreaks in Gannon history. After receiving an outlet from Dmitry Martynenko, he fired a one-handed pass from the opposite foul line to Stephen Battle on the left wing. Battle dropped a quick bounce pass in the lane to Darrell Blanton who sent a touch pass to Oscar Macias on the right block for a layup. (You can watch the play in here on YourErie.com. Kudos to my main man Craig Smylie for solid camerawork.) In 6 seconds, all 5 Knights touched the ball and converted a defensive rebound into a layup.

Knight Knotes:
* I overheard a bizarre conversation at the game. One referee walked over to Malone coach Tim Walker and asked, "Is there anybody on the white team you want me to watch because he (John Reilly) wants me to watch number 32." I've never seen that happen before.
* Tanner Furno and Brandon Belt combined for 31 points off the bench. Furno looked comfortable rolling down the lane rather than posting up against heavier defenders. And Belt looked even more relaxed spotting up for 5 threes. When that kid has time to set his feet, he's almost automatic.
* Gannon has scored 90 or more points in 3 consecutive games and 4 of their last 5. Last year they topped 90 points once in 26 contests. The 2008-09 team which advanced to the Elite 8 scored 90 points just 3 times in 34 games, and they did it against dregs Lock Haven, Urbana, and Daemen.
* It will be fun to watch if Gannon is able to defend two-time Porreco Cup MVP Chris Giles in tonight's championship. Malone was a good matchup for Gannon because they weren't quick penetrators. Giles is one of the best slashers in small college basketball.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Making A List

Our good friend Santa usually does the list writing this time of year, but this time it's your turn. Make your list in the comments section below with your opinion of 3 Knights who you believe rank at the top of these categories:

1. Best pure shooters
2. Best slashers
3. Best ballhandlers
4. Best shot blockers
5. Favorite players

If you'd like some help to jog your memory, click here for a list of Gannon's all-time record holders and click here for the list of all-time letterwinners at GU.

I'll share my favorites with you later; I'd like to hear first what you have to say. Just click the comments link below or (because the Blogger format is far from perfect) just email me at Jim.Roddy@JamesonPublishing.com if that works better for you.

Thanks to Steve Bohen, my former partner in Gannon's radio booth, for this idea to help get us through the near three-week layoff from live hoops at the Audi. If Steve didn't make this suggestion, I was going to start a blog on Mercyhurst basketball called "ManchelMania!"

Saturday, December 10, 2011

The Look Of A Winner

Quick question for you: Can you name one game from the past two seasons (since the Knights advanced to the Elite 8 in 2009) that was a better performance for Gannon than Saturday's 94-75 drubbing of Shippensburg? Feel free to look at the results from 2009-10 and 2010-11 before answering that question, but I don't think you'll find a decent answer.

Now I'm not going to clear my schedule for the weekend of the Division II Elite 8 (which is March 21-22 & 24 in Northern Kentucky, in case you were wondering) because Cheyney and Ship weren't exactly top-flight teams. But you had to like the offensive firepower and efficiency the Knights displayed this weekend. Against Ship, Gannon shot 56% from the field, 42% on threes, and committed only 5 turnovers while handing out 26 assists. Five players hit double figures ... and whodathunk the center position would lead the way with 30 points and 18 rebounds on 14-of-18 shooting. Dmitry Martynenko broke out with 18 points and 11 boards while Tanner Furno jumped off the bench (literally) for 11 and 7 while making 6-of-7 from the field.

Compare Gannon's offensive numbers for this year vs. last season:
PPG: 85.2 ppg vs. 70.5 ppg (+15.3)
FG%: 51.1% vs. 45.9% (+5.2%)
3FG%: 40.9% vs. 33.9% (+7.0%)
FT%: 75.2% vs. 70.2% (+5.2%)
Assist-to-TO ratio: 1.2-to-1 vs. 0.89-to-1 (+.31)
Offensive rebounds: 14.5 rpg vs. 10.5 rpg (+5.0)
Games scoring 80+ points: 6 of 8 (75%) vs. 5 of 26 (19.2%)
Games scoring 90+ points: 3 of 8 (37.5%) vs. 1 of 26 (3.8%)

So the Knights are shooting 5% better and even when they miss, they're likely to grab the offensive rebound for another scoring opportunity. That will get you a higher scoring total and eventually a higher win percentage that last year's 15-11 mark.

Even with the two lopsided victories this weekend, defense still has to be a concern for John Reilly. Dribble penetration by Ship led to the Raiders being comfortable on the perimeter and connecting on 9-of-16 threes. The defense was the best it's been all year these past two games, but it has to improve even more if the Knights want to make a postseason run.

Knight Knotes:
* Check out the photo galleries from this weekend's games by clicking here (GU vs. Cheyney) and here (GU vs. Ship). Pic #41 of the GU/Ship set is tremendous -- Stephen Battle's soaring dunk in the second half. Kudos to Joe Mattis for his camera work.

* Be sure to weigh in on our effort to give Darrell Blanton a nickname he deserves. Blanton lived up to his billing as the King of Jammermill Saturday with a 20-point, 9-rebound, high-energy effort.

* Though Gannon is off for 18 days until the Porreco Cup, the Gannon Hoops staff will still be working. We'll talk about some Knights of years gone by and would like to hear your thoughts.

UPDATED 12/12/11:
Thanks to Gannon Hoops follower JRD who emailed me this photo of former Knight Kyle Goldcamp on Cleveland Cavaliers media day. Very cool to see him in an NBA uni. I'm saving this photo for my 5-year-old daughter to show her that hard work pays off. For more info on Goldcamp in the NBA, click here to read the press release from Gannon. I think Goldcamp might have a future in The Association because I heard when he transferred from UPJ, he did a live show on their campus radio station and said, "In this fall, I'm going to take my talents to Presque Isle and join the Gannon Knights."

Friday, December 9, 2011

Darrell Blanton Needs A Nickname

Because of the quick turnaround -- Gannon tips off against Shippensburg in less than 16 hours from the moment I'm writing this -- I won't recap the Knights 91-60 shellacking of Cheyney tonight at the Hammermill Center. I'll address a more pressing issue: super junior Darrell Blanton needs a nickname.

Something good like John "Shanghai" Matthews or Gerald "Bad News" Walker. Maybe he could borrow a name from "Dr. Dunkenstein" Darryl Griffith or Herman "The Helicopter" Knowings. Blanton earned special distinction with his spectacularly consistent early season play, including tonight's 25-point, 6-rebound, 5-assist and 4-dunk domination of the Wolves.

I'd like to hear your suggestions for nicknames. Right now I'm thinking the Euclid Rocket or the Peach Street Pogo Stick. Feel free to post your thoughts below or email me at Jim.Roddy@JamesonPublishing.com.

(Photo courtesy Gannon University and Joe Mattis.)

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Insanity Continues

We're 6 games into the season and I've already gone nuts. Gannon continued its mind-boggling string of close PSAC games with an 83-79 overtime loss at West Chester. With my brain and my emotions ragged, I won't offer much opinion in this post. Instead, I'll just state facts that if proposed for a movie script would be rejected for being unrealistic.

Here are the results for Gannon's last 13 PSAC games when both teams were still playoff eligible, including last season:
vs. California L 72-70
vs. Mercyhurst L 68-64 OT
@ Clarion W 76-67
@ Slippery Rock L 69-67 (SRU field goal at the buzzer)
@ Indiana PA L 73-58
vs. Edinboro L 69-68 (EUP field goal at the buzzer)
@ Mercyhurst W 79-71
@ California L 53-50
vs. Slippery Rock W 62-59
@ East Stroudsburg L 90-89
@ Kutztown W 80-79
@ Millersville W 98-97 OT
@ West Chester L 83-79 OT

An incredible 10 of those 13 games were decided by one possession or in overtime. It gets even crazier when you throw in Gannon's 64-63 independent win vs. Central State on Feb. 7 and their 67-65 loss to Daemen in this year's Gary Miller Classic.

I challenge you to find another basketball program with a string of that many close games. Heck, I challenge you to find a hockey team with a scoring differential greater than what Gannon's experienced.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

America's (Least Boring) Team

At 3-2, Gannon doesn't have a scintillating winning percentage. But you're certainly getting your money's worth as a Golden Knight fan. Gannon's played only 5 games, but emotionally I feel like we're already deep into the NCAA Tournament. The Knights rallied at Millersville Saturday afternoon to claim a 98-97 win in overtime, meaning that 4 of Gannon's 5 games have been decided in the final possession. The difference in all three PSAC games has been 1 point. My heart has been pounding through my chest down the stretch of every game except the Roberts Wesleyan shellacking. At next weekend's home games, the maintenance staff might consider stocking up on defibrillators.

I paid the $7 to watch the Millersville game via the Internet, and it was worth every penny. (I hope they don't charge my credit card extra because the game went into overtime.) Here are some other thoughts on the contest:

* John Reilly said in his postgame radio interview that he wouldn't comment on the officiating. I think that's a nice way of saying it was suspect at best. I didn't have the best angle or video quality with the Internet feed, but it appeared to me the game was called too closely. The 64 fouls listed in the box score -- a whopping 39 against Gannon -- would seem to agree with me. Players would force a shot by throwing themselves into a crowd and get bailed out by a whistle. There was also a big non-call with just over 90 seconds left where a GU player took an obvious charge but with no call it led to open MU three-pointer.

* Gannon played the entire OT with a lineup of players under 6-foot-5. (Made me feel like I was watching the old Erie Wave of the WBL.) Forwards Dmitry Martynenko, Tanner Furno, and Darrell Blanton had all fouled out and Bubby Johnson didn't make the trip due to injury. But the Knights still got it done with a lineup I'm guessing Coach Reilly never intended using down the stretch.

* Reilly talked earlier this week in an interview with Jim LeCorchick about Oscar Macias needing to be more aggressive on offense. Macias responded with 20 points (13 above his average) on 6-of-11 shooting before becoming the 4th of 5 Knights to foul out of the contest. Macias hit a clutch pull-up 3 with 26 seconds left in regulation and two free throws at the 19-second mark to key Gannon's comeback.

* Macias wasn't the only one filling up the basket. Blanton has become ol' reliable on the stat sheet: 21 points, 10 rebounds, 8-of-15 shooting. Stephen Battle (17 points, 7-of-7 from the foul line) took over the game at times. And Adam Blazek plays with incredible confidence. He's always attacking on offense and doesn't hesitate to stick it in your eye if you give him any space. Blazek hit for 18 points on 7-of-12 shooting including 4-of-6 on threes. And he only committed 1 turnover. Not to jinx the kid, but can we give him Gannon's third consecutive PSAC Freshman of the Year award now?

* So, lots of kudos to hand out after this game. But the Knights still gave up 97 points to a team that was averaging 73 a game coming in and had lost 4 games in a row. Gannon's on-ball defense is dreadful. They continue to allow guards penetration all the way to the basket or at least into the paint for pull-up jumpers. Millersville, who looked comfortable all afternoon, shot 53% from the field. Gannon has to shore up this aspect of their game or else they'll be on the wrong end of too many games in the 80s.

* The Millersville video broadcast had no sound and it rarely showed the scoreboard, so you needed Gannon's radio feed through the WERG website to keep track of the score and situation. But someone at WERG cut off the hoops broadcast with a minute to go in regulation and opted instead for some smooth jazz lovey dovey music. Bizarre way to watch a crucial game. If you needed a reminder this isn't the upper echelon of the basketball world, this was it.