Of course I was thrilled that Gannon scored two wins in the final weekend of PSAC crossover play, blasting Bloomsburg Friday, 81-67, and then manhandling Mansfield Saturday, 74-54. What had to make GU fans ecstatic beyond the double-digit victories was that the Knights did it playing their best defense of the season. The stats tell the first part of the story:
* Entering the brace of games, Gannon was allowing 77.7 ppg. They allowed only 60.5 ppg vs. the Huskies and the Mounties.
* Opponents were shooting 46.3% from the field prior to Friday. Mansfield shot 31% while Bloom had to catch fire in the second half to produce a 42% shooting chart.
* The Knights were outrebounding opponents by +8 per game, a John Reilly staple, but they cranked it up a notch vs. Bloom (+11, 41-30) and then vs. MU (+16, 48-32).
What the Knights are doing beyond the box score has me even more excited about their prospects entering PSAC West play. They are outworking and outfighting their opponents for every loose ball and on nearly every defensive possession. They've been relentless even when the game wasn't on the line. Leading Mansfield 71-52 with about 2 minutes to go Saturday, Dmitry Martynenko was positioned on the weak side with a Mansfield defender between him and the basket, but he muscled his way inside to earn Gannon's 16th offense rebound of the night. Next, off Martynenko's missed FT, Brandon Belt lost some skin on his knees diving after the loose ball in front of the Gannon bench. About 20 seconds later, Adam Blazek lept out of bounds after a deflection and slammed the ball off an MU player so the Knights could earn possession of the ball.
Why do the Knights play this way? Two key reasons I think. First, Reilly has recruited players with a mindset that meshes with his system. Anybody who saw Blazek play at Prep knows that he didn't begin to learn hard work and extra effort in college. The second reason is something that some commenters here have slammed Reilly for: he works this team like crazy and continually pushes them for greater effort. For example, with Gannon leading Mansfield comfortably late in the second half Saturday, the Knights committed a foul on a transition layup. No big deal, right? Not when you're teaching Bob Dukiet defense. Reilly took two steps toward midcourt and yelled at his team in Jerry Slocum style, "Hey! Hey! NO JOGGING!"
I'm not sure how many more games Gannon will win this season. We were reminded at the Porreco Cup that crazy things can happen to good teams. But seeing that the Knights finally have the mindset to outfight their opponents for a full 40 minutes gives me hope they'll be battling to host a PSAC playoff home game 6 weeks from now.
* I hear that Battle will be out of the lineup another 2 or 3 weeks. As one fan mentioned to me yesterday, this could be a long-term blessing for the Knights because it allows them to play Shameel Carty and develop more bench depth.
* You don't have to watch the Knights for very long to understand that Brandon Belt is a pure shooter. But his athleticism literally jumped out to me this weekend. Not only was he quick to the ball, but he soared over everyone to block 2 shots Saturday.
* Bloomsburg PG Trevon Johnson entered Friday's game vs. Gannon as the Huskies #2 scorer at 10.7 ppg, and he was averaging only 2.6 turnovers per game. But against GU, Johnson produced more TOs (6) than points (4). A frustrated Bloom coach succinctly (and loudly) explained why when he yelled, "He's trying to match that (expletive deleted) kid," referring to PG counterpart Adam Blazek, "instead of just playing!" Saturday night at Clarion, Johnson carried Bloom to victory, scoring 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting, including the game-winning jumper with 3 seconds to play.
* Click on think link for video highlights and interviews from this weekend's games. Gannon SID Dan Teliski has done a tremendous job utilizing multimedia to give us full coverage of the Knights.