Saturday, December 20, 2014

Perfect Knights Pummel Poor Cheyney

Dear Santa Claus:

You have been super generous to my family in the past, but I do not need any gifts this year. I've already been blessed by a perfect 6-0 December by my favorite basketball team, including an 82-51 avalanche today at Cheyney. It's not just the win I'm happy about; it's the way the game unfolded and what the result means:

* Adam Blazek scored only 3 points Wednesday vs. West Chester but got back on his sleigh in a big way today with 30 points. I've never seen anyone without a shiny nose lead a team so well!
* The Knights were outrebounded Wednesday but bounced back in a big way today with an unthinkable 46-16 advantage on the boards. Wouldn't you imagine your elves could keep the rebounding margin under 30?
* Gannon committed a season-low 11 turnovers against Cheyney. I'm glad they're leaving their "season of giving" ways to a professional!
* Put it all together, and our Knights are 7-0 in conference play after stumbling out of the stall with 4 losses in their first 6 games. Back in November, I thought this season might be like that foggy Christmas Eve I'm sure you remember. You had all those successful veterans back in your lineup -- Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, and Vixen -- but for some reason you couldn't get it done. Well, I'm glad we're both back to our winning ways!

So skip me this Christmas and please deliver some presents to the following:
* Cheyney University: Earlier this week a Gannon fan sent me this article detailing the Philly-area school's financial woes. It gave me a sick feeling in my stomach to see what was once a respected school "on the verge of a financial meltdown." Their team shot only 24% from the field in the first half today, but that's still 15% higher than the school's four-year graduation rate!
* The Hiram women's basketball team: They're the school who gave up a home game and moved up its season opener to allow an opponent with a terminal brain tumor to fulfill her dream of playing in a college basketball game. What a gift they gave that girl and her family, and what an example they set for all of us who take games too seriously.
* Gannon walk-on William Gadson: Can we get him at least one possession of playing time this season? Being a former walk-on, I have a soft spot for non-scholarship players who show up at practice every day but still need to pay for their books, meals, credits, and made-up expenses like a "globalization fee." Gadson has dressed for every game but is the only Golden Knight who hasn't seen floor time -- except when he's among the first off the bench to congratulate his teammates every time out. I love the enthusiasm. Let's get a giant lead and see what he can do when the clock's running.

Santa, thanks again for everything and good luck with all your deliveries this year. If you drop a gift, I wouldn't worry about it. Raphell Thomas-Edwards or A'Darius Porter will probably catch it before it hits the ground!

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Final-ly! Knights Knock Off Stroud, West Chester

Finals week has traditionally been rough for both Gannon players and fans. Monday through Friday is filled with make-or-break exams, then the week concludes with a sub-par effort by mentally exhausted student-athletes against a cupcake opponent (Urbana, Tiffin, Penn State-McKeesport, Thiel, and Roberts Wesleyan were past mid-December foes. That's uglier than brown slush on State Street.)

Anyone who saw live or watched the video highlights of Gannon's 83-79 double-overtime win vs. East Stroudburg Tuesday and 55-54 slugfest victory against West Chester Wednesday realized this finals week brought some of the best basketball of the year to the Hammermill. Evident in both games were Gannon's guts, but otherwise the Knights took two radically different paths to a achieve a 6-0 PSAC mark:
   * vs. ESU: Gannon allowed 54% shooting in the first half, a season-high 79 points, and 12 three-pointers, committed 17 turnovers, clanged a dozen free throws, and blew a 7-point lead in just 15 seconds.
   * vs. WCU: Leading scorer and pre-season All-American Adam Blazek produced a season-low 3 points before fouling out along with #2 scorer Girbran Smith, the Knights shot just 42% from the field, allowed 13 offensive rebounds, and committed 18 turnovers.

If you saw only those stats and not the final scores, you'd think Gannon would have suffered an 0-2 week and John Reilly would still be stuck on 398 wins. (Congrats on that milestone, Riles. You certainly didn't take any shortcuts to get there.) Instead, the Knights ended a 7-game losing streak to Stroud and a 4-game skid vs. the Rams.

Gannon bullied ESU on the boards, outrebounding the Warriors an astonishing 55-32 including 0 offensive rebounds in the first half and just 7 for the entire game (compared to 19 GU offensive boards.) Raphell-Thomas Edwards led the charge with 17 rebounds, including three on one offensive possession in the second half.

I'm still not quite sure how Gannon ended up on the right side of the scoreboard against West Chester. The Rams showed high energy early, bolting to a 9-point lead, but the Knights scrambled on defense which both slowed down and frustrated their opponents. Cory Blake entered the game as West Chester's top scorer (14.6 ppg) but he was just 0-of-3 at halftime and 1-for-6 heading into the game's final possession, Gannon clinging to a 1-point lead. West Chester coach Damien Blair (more on him later) called time out and set up 4 Rams on the baseline, letting Blake go 1-on-1 against Thomas-Edwards. You can watch that possession here beginning at the 4:02 mark, but let me spoil the ending for you: Thomas-Edwards snuffs Blair's two attempts to get to the basket, and guard Avery Brown's driving attempt is stuffed by RTE. The Rams bench erupts after the buzzer sounds, in part because they thought Brown was fouled (he wasn't; watch the video) but also because the Knights' defense drove them mad ... and to a sixth consecutive loss, only one of those defeats by double-digits.

If the remaining games on Gannon's schedule are all 20-point snoozers, we could still look back on this season and say, "Man, there were a ton of amazing games this year!" Most finals weeks are forgettable for Gannon fans. This week's games were an outstanding outlier.

More thoughts on the Stroud and West Chester games:
* Due to a family commitment, I wasn't able to attend the GU/ESU game Tuesday (add that to my list of deathbed regrets). But Gannon SSID (Super Sports Information Director) Dan Teliski did not leave me in the dark. His extended video clips -- 9 1/2 minutes of action -- allowed me to watch nearly every key play. I commend Teliski and his staff on their efforts but also have to give credit to the University. It's been well publicized that Mercyhurst recently cut back on its sports information staff. Gannon has chosen to invest in first-rate coverage of its sports teams. I'm very grateful for that.

* And Teliski doesn't quit working when the game's over. He emailed me this gem today: "There have been 29 ties and 44 lead changes during our last four games against IUP, Shepherd, East Stroudsburg, and West Chester. And there were zero of both against Shepherd." I'll use this data when I ask my doctor for a double-dose prescription of migraine meds.

* Sitting near the opponent's bench for GU games, I come away disappointed by the behavior of most coaches. West Chester's Damian Blair took my dismay to a new level Wednesday. Early in the game after a double technical, I heard a Gannon fan shout, "Play the game right!" Blair heard it too, so he turned around and said to no one in particular, "I won't let them yell at my players." Then he looked at the Gannon radio team of Jim LeCorchick and Sean Amicucci and at me and said, "Who's in charge here? Where's your athletic director?" before walking to the middle of the press table asking similar questions. No big deal, I thought. The guy is intense and overprotective of his players. But clearly Blair isn't protective of or respectful towards officials. He spent a good portion of the game out of the coaches box, sometimes even making contact with the referees while he berated them.

In the second half, the Gannon fan I mentioned earlier made another comment (I can't recall exactly what he said but it wasn't vulgar), and Blair responded by muttering, "Get a job." Prior to the game's final possession, I said to a faithful Gannon season ticket holder sitting behind me, "If a call goes against them (West Chester) on this possession, this coach is going to go through the roof." I was incorrect on the direction of the explosion but dead on with the emotional reaction. After the final horn, Blair stormed from the bench to under the basket to protest the call -- you can watch it here starting at the 4:16 mark -- swinging his right arm at the referee as he got closer. One more step and he would have punched the official in the face or neck. Blair then walked toward midcourt screaming "f---ing bulls---" more than once before quieting down to shake John Reilly's hand.

Blair and other coaches like him have to understand they aren't just trying to win a game, they are representing their university. And I'm predicting the story I just told won't find its way onto the West Chester University website or into any of its prospective student marketing materials.

* I was happy Gannon won Wednesday and absolutely ecstatic for struggling sophomore Matt Dogan that his three-pointer with just over a minute to play held up as the final margin of victory. Before draining that trey, Dogan was just 8-for-38 from the field and 3-for-22 from behind the arc this season. When he first caught the ball, he looked around for a teammate to pass to before deciding to try the wide-open shot. A new local author was recently quoted in the Erie Times saying, "I believe writing chose me." Dogan didn't choose his game-winning shot; it chose him.

I hope this will be the boost of confidence needed to get Dogan, a red hot shooter at West Middlesex, on track as a Knight. Those who saw him play regularly in high school, including a former Gannon Knight who is a good judge of talent, thought Dogan performed at a Division I level. He can give Gannon an additional (and much-needed) perimeter scoring threat as we head into 2015.

* Speaking of 2015, Gannon's next 5 opponents all have .500 records or worse vs. Division II opponents: at Cheyney (1-9), at Millersville (4-7), at Shippensburg (4-4), vs. Kutztown (4-4), vs. Edinboro (3-4). That doesn't guarantee easy victories -- we learned that first-hand from West Chester -- but it sure sets up the Knights for second semester success.

* I might have said Gannon "passed finals week with flying colors" in this post but thank goodness I avoided that cliche. The stepfather of Gannon freshman Isaiah Eisendorf is syndicated sports columnist Norman Chad, so I need to raise my game in case he stumbles across this article.

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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Woe And Two

Gannon has suffered consecutive losses to open the season, falling to Mountain East opponents Glenville State (57-51) and Charleston (54-52). I knew this could happen -- I wrote back in August that Gannon could be eliminated from hosting the Atlantic Region tournament with two losses 26 hours into the season. But I think it's the way Gannon lost that has me most disappointed. The statistics so far paint a dismal picture in several categories:
  • Scoring: Gannon is averaging just 51.5 ppg
  • Turnovers: The low scoring is partly due to 36 turnovers in two games -- that's nearly a TO every two minutes
  • Deep Deficits: The Knights fell behind Friday by 24 then Saturday by 15
  • Slow Starts: Gannon is being outscored in the first half 72-40
  • Chronic Catch-up: Over the two contests, Gannon led for only 24 seconds of game action
Watching via video feed from Glenville State, I noticed two major mistakes that occurred consistently. On offense, the ball was not swung quickly from side-to-side on several possessions. Players would slowly dribble the ball or hold it, hoping for a post player to get open. The key to John Reilly's offense (and pretty much any offense) is to get the defense off-balance by moving the ball quickly. Slow ball movement led to turnovers and contested shots.

Defensively, the Knights frequently overcommitted to the ballhandler. When a player drives the lane, their defender is supposed to stay in front. If that doesn't happen, a teammate needs to slide over to help. I saw several times that a defensive helper would race 15-20 feet away from their man to help on the ball too early, creating an easy assist opportunity and open shot for the opponent.

The bright side is all the errors mentioned above are fixable, so there's no reason to panic. It's not like Gannon is low on talent or the players aren't giving an effort. On Saturday, the iron man five -- Blazek, Smith, Thomas-Edwards, Porter, and Toupane -- played all but three minutes of the second half, and they fought their tails off to the end. They erased big second-half deficits both games, and had their been just one more second on the clock vs. Charleston, Porter's last-gasp tip-in would have sent the game into overtime.

The last time Gannon started its season 0-2 was 2009-10 when home losses to Urbana and Lake Erie set the Knights on course for a miserable 13-15 campaign. That was a difficult season for sure, but things could be much worse. Clarion lost last night, 69-68, to Georgian Court (NJ) -- who? -- at home. It's only the third win in GCU history and first ever on the road after last year's inaugural 2-24 season. Cal took a bad hit as well, falling to Urbana, 86-85, at Indiana (Pa.) That snapped UU's 33-game losing streak, the longest in the nation entering this season after an 0-27 debacle in 2013-14. Urbana had lost to IUP by 37 the night before, so it's not like Cal ran into a suddenly competitive team. Finally there's Penn State-New Kensington who started its season getting thrashed 118-40 at Pitt-Johnstown. Gannon hasn't given up 118 points across two games and their scoring margin is only -4.0 ppg, not -78.

All in all, Gannon did not play anywhere near its potential and lost close games to two of the region's best teams. They'll have a chance to get back on track vs. another quality club Wednesday. Slippery Rock won its games this weekend vs. Charleston and Glenville and will enter the Hammermill 2-0.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Good Loss

This will be the only time I don't fret after a Gannon defeat and the only time I use that headline all season. The Knights hung with Division I Siena all evening, eventually falling by 11 points, 74-63. I said before the game, "Nobody would have a right to gripe if Gannon suffered a 20-point drubbing. And if they are competitive with the Saints, that would be an additional boost of confidence for the GU faithful."

Consider my confidence boosted. As the graphic here shows, Gannon played the Saints evenly for the first 15 minutes and then didn't get blown out once they fell behind. Looking at the stat sheet, Siena didn't rely on substitutes, with its starting guards playing 37 and 30 minutes, and its starting forwards logging between 22 and 27 minutes.

The Knights spread around the playing time with seven players seeing at least 21 minutes of action. That's what I look for in an exhibition game: who is getting the playing time -- especially among the newcomers -- and who did not see the floor at all. It was no surprise that the senior foursome of Adam Blazek (31 minutes, 18 points), Raphell Thomas-Edwards (27 minutes, 15 points, 5 turnovers), Girbran Smith (22 minutes, 7 points on 2-of-8 shooting), and A'Darius Porter (21 minutes, 5 points before fouling out) got PT.

The fifth starter was junior college transfer Tony Boykins (25 minutes, 3 points, 4 assists, 3 turnovers). Also receiving significant playing time were returning sophomore Matthew Dogan (22 minutes, 4 points on 2-for-7 shooting, 4 turnovers), St. Bonaventure transfer Jean Yves Toupane (21 minutes, 9 points, and a team-high 7 rebounds), and redshirt freshman Marcus Jones (16 minutes, 0 points).

Newcomers who did not play include juco Jon Dogbo and freshmen walk-ons William Gadson and Gabriel Adersteg. I'm not sure if Dogbo is hurt or redshirting, but now we can all begin to speculate. The only real playing time surprise to me was senior Rich Austin getting only 8 minutes. I thought he'd be in the rotation to spell Porter and Thomas-Edwards from the get-go.

So I'm all zen about this game. Maybe I'm just conserving my energy for next weekend when the Knights open the regular season taking on NCAA participants Glenville State (WV) and Charleston (WV). Things are going to get real real quick.

PSAC Notes: As I was writing this post, I checked the PSAC web site to see how other conference opponents fared in their exhibitions this weekend. I nearly spit out my garbanzo beans when I saw that PSAC West patsy Edinboro ran DI Miami (Oh.) off the court today, 71-60. The only Boro newcomer to score double digits was General McLane grad Jaymon Mason, so it's not like this was a radically different lineup from last year's club that finished a miserable 3-13 in the West.

Respectable losses included IUP falling at South Florida, 77-72, -- the game was tied at halftime -- and Shippensburg's close call at Duquesne, 72-69. Ship outscored the Dukes 15-4 in the game's final 6:41.

UPDATE 11/10/14: As we discussed on the Gannon Hoops blog earlier, the stepfather of freshman Isiah Eisendorf is nationally syndicated sports columnist Norman Chad. Chad writes about his family frequently, and on Saturday penned a column about his stepson playing Division II basketball. John Reilly is quoted in the article, and Chad has some great observations about Erie, including this one: "Erie is a lovely town, particularly if you have a wood-burning fireplace and thermal underwear." Click here for the complete article.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Rest In Peace Sean Hazel

I just learned today that former Golden Knight Sean Hazel passed away in September apparently due to complications from diabetes and cancer. Hazel was a key player on the 1987-88 Gannon team that advanced to the Division II Elite 8, falling at Troy (Ala.) in the quarterfinals.

Here's what I wrote on this blog about Hazel in 2011 when reminiscing about the best slashers in Gannon history: Hazel played just one year, scoring 126 points, but GU fans didn't get to see him full-speed due to an injury. I saw him 100% healthy during summer games at the Gannon Rec Center. He would single-handledly destroy the 1989-90 team that went to Springfield. He had an NBA body and explosiveness no one could match.

This memory I have is over 25 years old, but it's still vivid in my mind. We're playing shirts vs. skins at the Rec Center, and I jump to grab a defensive rebound. I thought it was going to fall into my hands until Hazel comes out of nowhere, snatches the ball with two hands, and thunder-slams it through the basket to finish the game. He made contact with me, but you couldn't call it "over the back" because he was up so high his abdomen hit me on the left side of my face.

Rest in peace Sean Hazel.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Knight: Jon Dogbo jr. G 6-4 200

Every Gannon recruit has some level of an interesting back story, and Jon Dogbo's might be the best. I don't know every detail about him, but the basics are quite fascinating:
1. He was born in France.
2. He played scholastically at Redemption Christian Academy in Troy, N.Y., which is no ordinary high school. It appears the team plays a national schedule -- games next year are scheduled for New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, North Carolina, Utah, Nevada, Connecticut, Kansas, New Hampshire, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina, Ohio, and The Bahamas -- and its alums include NBAers Lamar Odom and Mike James, plus several Division I stars.
3. He played junior college ball at Miles Community College in Miles City, MT. I don't want to say MCC is nothing like France, but they do have an intercollegiate rodeo team, both men's and women's. And their annual youth basketball tournament is called the Cowtown Classic. No place in France is called "cowtown."
4. According to this web site, Dogbo originally committed to Division I Delaware State.

Time will tell how good a player he'll be on the Division II level, but we know for sure he'll have stories to tell. Here's more info I unearthed on Dogbo:

* Was third team NJCAA Division I all-Region IX as a sophomore at Miles last season.
* Was among the Pioneer team leaders in points (15.7 ppg), rebounds (6.9 rpg), and minutes (28 mpg).
* Connected on 43% of his field goals, including 36% on three-pointers. Made 70% of his free throws.
* Miles skidded down the stretch and posted a 14-17 record for the 2013-14 season.
* Led MCC with 30 points in an overtime win vs. Northwest College (WY).
* Helped Miles to a 10-point home win over Western Wyoming, tallying 20 points and 5 rebounds. This web page also includes a good head-and-shoulders photo of Dogbo.
* Hit for 20 points in a 98-91 loss at Sheridan College (WY).
* Recorded 16 points and 8 rebounds in a home loss to Little Big Horn College (MT).
* Led the club with 19 points (including a trio of three-pointers) and 9 rebounds in a 74-60 loss vs. Western Wyoming College.
* In a 68-55 home loss to NJCAA #19 Gillette (WY) College, he led the way with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Side notes: Gillette's nickname is the Pronghorns and they of course have an intercollegiate rodeo team.
* Tired of those 1- or 2-line game summaries? Then sit back and watch some video of Dogbo in action at MCC. I know jucos aren't traditionally the bastion of defensive intensity, so a player's offensive game can look better here than it will vs. PSAC foes, but there's no denying that Dogbo can get to the rim and rattle the bankboard. Check out the consecutive dunks to start this highlight tape; the jam at the 45-second mark is most impressive.
* From what I watched, I really like his overall game. There are many instances of him (1) finishing on the break, (2) beating his man off the dribble in the half court game, (3) sticking pull-up and step-back jumpers, and (4) drilling three-pointers. Are there any other ways to score? Seems like he can fill it up from all angles.
* The way he blows by defenders and finishes in an off-balance, herky-jerky fashion reminds me of former Gannon star Darryl Freeman, who led the Knights to the Elite 8 in 1990 (and should be in the Gannon Athletics Hall of Fame if you ask me). The angles Freeman took to the basket were unpredictable and difficult to defend.
* Dogbo also has a Eurostep in his game, which kind of figures because he's from France. I don't think we've seen much of that at the Hammermill Center.
* Seems like when he has an open three, he'll take it. And when he sees an open lane, he attacks it. He's an aggressive offensive player for sure.
* I think the highlight of this video from his sophomore year is his three-point barrage on his way to a 30-point game. I counted 5 threes in the first half.
* OK -- his strong three-point play at the 5:01 mark of the video is pretty good, too. The entire Miles bench stood up, and I almost jumped out of my chair when I saw him finish while getting clobbered.
* I don't know if he did this on his own or had some help, but to insert the NBA "Top 10" graphics between your dunks and label the video "Top 10 Junior College Dunks" is genius. And I agree with whoever assembled this video that dunk #1 is the best of the bunch.
* I could not find any data on Dogbo at Redemption Christian, but he posted this video of himself in action from the 2011-12 season. There are some pretty interesting gymnasiums on that tape.The court at the 3:00 mark looks like it's the New York Knicks practice floor ... but later in the tape (about 3:45), Dogbo is playing on the adjacent court which has the Celtics logo in the middle and what appears to be faux parquet.

ALSO: The Golden Knights official team photo and roster are now live on the GannonSports.com website. It's evidence that John Reilly has made a concerted effort to recruit a bunch of forwards in the 6-foot-6 range. The back line of players are all essentially the same height.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

New Gannon Season, New Gannon Hoops Features

You might have noticed a new-look Gannon Hoops website, and I certainly hope you like it. The only negative feedback I received was from "Gary M." who wanted the color scheme changed to blue and green instead. No can do, sir. We bleed maroon and gold.

Not only has the look changed, but we've added some new features that I hope will enhance your Golden Knight experience this season. The features are all located on the right hand side of the page, and I'll run them down for you here:
  • Search This Blog: If there's a past post or blast-from-the-past name you want to look for, just enter your data in the open field, hit the "Search" button, and the results will show up at the top of the page. 
  • Popular Posts: This lists the most popular recent posts in case you're curious what your fellow Golden Knight fans are reading. I would have listed the all-time most popular posts here, but I don't expect in the near future we'll surpass the 2,641 views of the "Cleve Will Leave" post from April 29, 2013.
  • Total Pageviews: Thanks to your support, as of today the Gannon Hoops site has received nearly 400,000 page views. When I first started this blog, I thought the only readers might be Rick "Stats" Klapthor, Steve Piotrowicz's dad, and my family, but the Gannon community has certainly shown great interest in their Knights. Thank you again!
  • Related Links: This is my favorite new addition. You'll now be one click away from the official Gannon men's basketball website, the Gannon men's basketball Twitter feed, the PSAC men's basketball web page, a popular Atlantic Region basketball message board, the Division II men's basketball web page, and the NCAA Division II Regional Rankings. That should give you the entire information landscape of Gannon basketball. If you have any other sites to suggest adding here, please let me know. (And, no Gary M., we won't link to the Mercyhurst men's basketball page from here, so don't even bother asking.)
I haven't paid as much attention to the Gannon basketball Twitter feed as I should have, but I'm glad I found this video on there recently. It's appropriately titled "2014-2015 Gannon Basketball Hype" and professionally executes on showing pretty much every dunk and big basket from last season. You'll want to watch it again and again -- I already have. I'd like to give a high five to whoever is behind A Level 5 Movement, producer of the video.

video

Updated 10/10/14: Good to see the Gannon women's basketball team getting involved in our community. Last night they spent time with the girls basketball team at Blessed Sacrament School on Erie's west side. I like winning but like way more good people. The Lady Knights get check marks in both columns.

Friday, September 12, 2014

New Knight: Isaiah Eisendorf fr. F 6-5 215

I was talking with a longtime Gannon fan this week, and we both voiced optimism about the upcoming season. Our only concern is how the incoming players will fit. Will they adjust to John Reilly's defense-and-rebounding-or-else approach? Do they have the work ethic necessary to compete on the Division II level? Will they be team players -- do they have the right attitude to fit with Blazek, Porter, Thomas-Edwards and company?

After researching Isaiah Esiendorf, I have zero reservations about him fitting in. I think this excerpt from a Feb. 18 Washington Post article reveals why Reilly recruited him: 

"Late in the first quarter, Eisendorf drew the defense from below the basket and found Aaron Robinson with a perfect feed to set up an easy layup. He jumped, hollered and clapped ferociously, a relative emotional explosion inspired by a perfectly executed team-first moment. … Eisendorf’s rebounds, disciplined defense and unabating hustle — along with a team-high 19 points — sparked Springbrook) to its ninth straight win. 

“He’s our glue,” Springbrook Coach Tom Crowell said. “He brings energy every game, leading rebounder every game, and he’s been scoring a lot lately . . . Isaiah is a beast.”

Eisendorf helped set up many of the Blue Devils’ buckets he didn’t score himself, whether by going a step or two more in pursuit of a loose ball, enticing an offensive rebound away from a Knight, or making an extra pass. As with his first-quarter assist, he reacted most vehemently to those less glamorous plays — hardly shifting his facial expression when he beat the third-quarter buzzer, but nearly clapping his hand off when a teammate finished after he made a tough save-to-outlet pass.

“Honestly, I get most pumped up when we score a tough basket,” Eisendorf said. “That’s all that matters to me. I try to do the things that aren’t getting done — if we need rebounds, I try to get rebounds. If it’s defense, I’ll try to step up on defense. I just try to do whatever we need."

I don't even need to see tape to know if this kid is Reilly's (and my) kind of player. I'd have offered him a scholarship just on attitude alone!

Before I get to Eisendorf's basketball abilities, I have to spend a paragraph on his stepfather, Norman Chad. You might recognize Chad as ESPN's top poker commentator, a guest host on Pardon The Interruption, or for his syndicated sports column that appears in the Washington Post, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cleveland Plain Dealer, and a dozen other newspapers. To get a sample of his writing talent, check out this column Chad penned about Eisendorf and his high school basketball team. The guy can make words dance. I have to admit I'm concerned Chad will attend a Gannon game this year, write about it, and then all the Gannon Hoops followers will realize what a hack I am. So if you see this man taking notes during a Golden Knight game, I implore you to steal his pen. Thank you.

Here's more information on Eisendorf, some of it courtesy of the Gannon Sports Information Department:
* Let's go to the videotape first. Here's his high school highlight tape from YouTube. You have to love a tape that includes both dunks and deflections.
* Watching him on film, he reminds me a lot of former Knight Alphonso Scandrett (2008-10), a reserve forward on that 30-4 Gannon team that advanced to the Elite 8 in 2009. Scandrett wasn't a giant or a giant scorer, but he was always around the ball, diving on the floor, and making sound decisions. Guys like that help make a bunch of players into a team.
* Here's how the DMVelite prospect report describes Eisendorf's skills: "Eisendorf is strong and athletic with toughness that is contagious. Volume rebounder and is always at the rim rebounding and defending. Has some perimeter skills and can create for other. Must work on overall skill as well as shooting to transition to the wing. Would benefit from spending a year or two at a quality prep or juco, will make him a low D1 prospect."
* Eisendorf also posted a series of individual workout tapes on YouTube.
* Was a standout both on and off the court at Springbrook High School in Silver Spring, Md.
* An honor roll member, he received the Student-Athlete Award, Versatility Achievement Award, and African American Achievement Award.
* His senior year he averaged 12.5 ppg, earning honors as team MVP, all-county second team, and All-Met honorable mention.
* According to this stat sheet from his senior year, 110 of his 112 field goals were two-pointers, and he made 65.7% of his foul shots.
* Springbrook won regionals and advanced to the state semifinals.
* Posted a season high 25 points and 15 rebounds in a 74-38 drubbing of Churchill.
* Scored 20 or more points in four games.
* Dominated in a win over Wheaton, tallying 19 points and 15 boards.
* According to this Baltimore Sun article, he totalled 11 points and 20 rebounds in Springbrook's Class 4A North Regional semifinal victory over a despondent Dulaney team.
* Scored 14 points in Springbrook's state semifinal loss to Henry A. Wise HS.
* His steal and nearly full court pass made the Washington Post's top plays in this video.
* If I was related to Eisendorf, I'd pay the Gannon Hoops blogger a ton of money to cover small college basketball for ESPN I would buy this sweet Getty Images photo of Isaiah's one-handed floater in the lane and turn it into a poster. But since I'm not a relative, I'll just link to the photo here.
* Played both basketball and football at Springbrook.
* This web page from May 14 lists him as a football recruit for the University of San Diego. Eisendorf is listed as a freshman tight end for the Toreros. And here's a pic of him signing his letter of intent to play football at USD. I'm not sure what happened, but this gives me confidence he'll be able to bang with other bigs in the PSAC.
* According to this article, he appeared in an adidas TV commercial, but I couldn't find it on YouTube despite watching a bunch of clips. So let's just pretend I came across the commercial and that Eisendorf is NBA star Damian Lillard.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Knights Announce Recruits, Returnees

Gannon announced its recruits and returnees for the 2014-15 season, and the good news is there aren't any giant surprises. First let's look at the list of recruits (with links to Gannon Hoops profiles on each player):
* Tony Boykins jr. G 6-3 190
* Jean Yves Toupane jr. F 6-7 195
* Dan Kaigler fr. F 6-6 195
* Adam Holm-Weber fr. PG 6-1 180
* Isaiah Eisendorf fr. F 6-5 215

The only real surprise out of that bunch is that Marc Fabricius, a 6-foot-7 freshman who was Holm-Weber's teammate in Denmark by way of Alexander Basketball Academy (Md.), was not on Gannon's official list. Fabricius was announced by ABA as a Golden Knight recruit before Holm-Weber's commitment was made public. I'll try to find out more of what happened with Fabricius, but right now Google isn't my friend. The first link in the search for "Marc Fabricius basketball" yields a result that says, "Marc Fabricius has accepted a basketball scholarship from Gannon University for the 2014-15 academic year."

I had not profiled Eisendorf, but I had been told a freshman forward from the D.C. area had committed to the Knights. The name I was told was "Eisenberg," and I knew this guy wasn't going to be a Golden Knight. When I build Eisendorf's profile, expect this YouTube highlight video to be part of his Gannon Hoops bio.

Six returning lettermen plus three redshirts will also make up  the Gannon roster this year: seniors Adam Blazek, Girbran Smith, Raphell Thomas-Edwards, and A'Darius Porter were all starters for last year's 20-10 club. They'll be joined by redshirt senior Rich Austin (who sat out last year after transferring from Lake Erie College), junior walk-on Cory Bailey, sophomore Matthew Dogan, and redshirt freshmen Brandon Domenick and Marcus Jones.

Only two underclassmen who were on last year's roster at the end of the season will not suit up for Gannon: Aleksandar Malinic and Nolan Woodward. I'm not sure of Malinic's whereabouts, but Malinic is on the roster at Kankakee (Ill.) Community College (thanks Gannon Hoops follower Corey for the tip) while Woodward is rumored to have transferred to American International College (Mass.)

Now the questions to ask are who will redshirt and who will be part of the rotation. I'm not even going to try to predict the redshirts; last year the Knights elected to redshirt a senior transfer (Austin) which I didn't see coming at all.

For the rotation, you'd have to assume Blazek, Smith, Thomas-Edwards, and Porter will log the majority of minutes based on history. I would also guess that the third big to rotate in with RTE and Porter would be Austin. Dogan should see playing time at the small forward -- he started at the three at the beginning of last season and was GU's leading scorer in the season finale vs. East Stroudsburg -- but I would guess one of the newcomers will also get some minutes here. A third guard will be added to the mix, but they should not expect to see lots of playing time. In the playoffs last year, Smith averaged about 30 minutes of action per game while Blazek played whenever the clock was running (e.g. 50 minutes vs. Slippery Rock, 45 minutes vs. West Chester in PSAC OT games).

Gannon fans can't be disappointed with this roster. It's balanced in terms of bigs vs. guards and upperclassmen vs. freshmen/sophomores. Go Knights!

Updated 9/7/14: For the first time in 350 posts and five years, I updated the look of the Gannon Hoops website. I wanted it to look all nice and spiffy when CBS does its research on Gannon for the Elite 8 in March. Let me know what you think.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Gannon Releases Schedule, Porreco Cup Run Is Over

Gannon announced its 2014-15 men's basketball schedule today, and what's most noteworthy is what is not on the list of games. For the first time in 40 seasons, GU will not host a tournament near the Christmas holiday. Eliminating the Porreco Cup gives the Knights more flexibility in their schedule and allows them to open their season against non-PSAC foes. As I wrote in this blog post last year, "I don't see who it's serving keeping the Porreco Cup in December. With home tournaments in late November and December, the Knights force themselves to play league games right off the bat, so it doesn't benefit the players or coaches." Instead of moving up the cup to open the season, Gannon eliminated the home tournament altogether and simply renamed the home contest vs. Mercyhurst "The Porreco Game."

I won't get into too much detail in this post about the schedule -- because Gannon SID Dan Teliski's analysis in the press release is superb -- but here are 5 parts of the schedule that have me fired up already:

1. Nov. 8 -- Gannon at Siena (exhibition). The game won't count in the standings, but I'm always thrilled when Gannon gets a shot at a Division I foe. Siena won 20 games a year ago but also lost 18, so this will be a good test for the Knights. I hope it will be more like when they played Dayton close in 2009 (losing by 8) and not the 69-44 drubbing Pitt put on them 10 years ago.

2. Nov. 14-15 -- PSAC/MEC Challenge at Glenville State. I'm actually more nervous than excited for the season-opening games against Mountain East opponents Glenville and Charleston, both who qualified for the NCAAs last season. The pessimist in me says Gannon could be eliminated from hosting the regional tournament just 26 hours into the season. The optimist in me says the Knights could establish themselves as an Atlantic Region heavyweight with a strong showing at this event.

3. Nov. 28 vs. Le Moyne (Gary Miller Classic) and Feb. 18 at Le Moyne. A home-and-home with a former Mideast Collegiate Conference rival? That's tremendous! If Gannon hadn't canned the Porreco Cup, the second game vs. the Dolphins and the Dec. 13 home game vs. Shepherd wouldn't have been possible. Can we figure out a way for both GU and LC to honor their 1987-88 teams during halftime of those games? Le Moyne won the MCC tourney at Gannon that year and returned to the Hammermill the following weekend where Gannon captured the NCAA East Regional title.

4. March 25-28 -- NCAA Elite 8 at Evansville, Ind. When Tom Chapman coached Gannon, he made sure the Elite 8 was always listed on the Gannon schedule. I like the expectation it sets for the program. I'm not reserving a hotel room in Evansville yet, but I'm excited to know Gannon has plans to be there.

5. There are no dregs on the schedule. Every game this season will be against a Division II school. No Penn State-Allegheny or Penn State-DuBois (Edinboro opponents next season) or any other non-conference cupcakes. Gannon's independent schedule includes 2014 NCAA entrants Glenville, Charleston, and Le Moyne, plus 20-game winner Shepherd (last year's Porreco Cup champ), and 24-5 Alderson-Broaddus. If GU makes the NCAAs this year, they will have earned it for sure.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Potential New Knight: Dan Kaigler fr. F 6-6 200

When Gannon signs a freshman big man who starred in high school, the skeptic in me always asks the same questions, "Could he be great for Gannon, too, or was he just a man among boys? How will he fare against players his size or taller? How about guys who weigh 30 pounds or more?" With 6-foot-6 forward Dan Kaigler likely to join the Knights (Syracuse.com says he will), I wonder those same questions, but the optimist in me asks one more after watching his senior year highlight tape: "Could we see the return of the Jammermill?"

I implore you to watch the entire 6-minute, 40-second video of Kaigler in action, but if you can't for some reason, then take 15 seconds to check out the steal and thundering slam at the 5-minute mark. Even Darrell Blanton would have admired that one.

Here's my 6-part assessment of Kaigler after watching his highlight tape:
1. Has a good midrange game, shoots an over-his-head jumper that's hard to defend
2. Can also shoot the three with that same smooth stroke
3. Moves easily and controls his body well for a big man
4. He loves to dunk -- who doesn't? -- and gets above the basket with two hands when he goes to the rim
5. Shares the ball when needed, doesn't panic when doubled
6. Would instantly be the best shot blocker on the Gannon team the moment he steps onto the court

If you think I'm overstating point #6, check out this part of Kaigler's highlight reel. I really feel bad for a kid whose shot gets thrown into the curtain on the stage while attempting a layup over the big man.

Point #6 made me think if I was going to say he could be the best shot blocker in a Gannon uniform since ____, whose name would I fill that blank with? The last time a GU player blocked 80 or more shots in a season, MC Hammer was recording his debut album. Kyle Goldcamp had 79 blocks in 2007-08, but I don't think any of us regard him as a big-time shot blocker. John "Shanghai" Matthews (123 blocks in 1985-86, 101 in 1986-87) and Craig Dixon (91 in 1983-84) may be the only Knights I regard as true shot blockers. All that said, I'd like to see someone in maroon and gold who can clean up inside when guards get beat off the dribble.

Here's more info on Kaigler:
* I'll start with the most important fact for longtime GU fans: Former LeMoyne standout Len Rauch was his AAU coach and Jack Rauch, Len's son, was Kaigler's teammate, according to this article. The gist of the article is that Kaigler led his team to an AAU national championship but to me that pales in comparison to knowing that he has connections to my all-time favorite Gannon opponent.(Side note: The resemblance between the senior Rauch and the junior Rauch is uncanny.)
* Averaged 17 points, 12 rebounds, 5 assists and 3 blocks as a senior.
* Kaigler's Bishop Ludden (N.Y.) teams enjoyed unparalled success during his four varsity seasons. Ludden won three straight section championships, two regional championships, and the New York Class A state title in 2012.
* Was an all-Central New York selection for three years.
* Was voted Central New York Player of the Year in a Syracuse.com fan poll. I like that the writer points out the poll attracted 6,000 more voters than the most recent Syracuse mayoral election.
* Led his team with 14 points in his final high school game, a loss in the Class A state tournament regional finals.
* In his team's last win of the season at regionals, he led the way with 19 points and 12 rebounds.the
* Allegedly, this is a video of him scoring his 1,000th career point about halfway through his senior campaign. I couldn't watch the video because it's asking for me to sign in with my Time Warner Cable ID or to order Time Warner cable. That's the opposite of convenient.
* This article does a nice job -- at least a better job than Time Warner -- of giving insight into Kaigler's 1,000th pont.
* Was named All-Central New York player of the year as a junior after averaging 14.5 ppg, 10 rpg, 4 apg, and 2.5 bpg.
* In this early season game from his junior year between "megapowers" Ludden and Jamesville-Dewitt, he led his squad to victory with 21 points.
* Scored 9 points as Bishop Ludden claimed the the sectional championship his junior year.
* Scored 20 points during a loss in the state semifinals as a junior.
* This article from his junior year said Kaigler was being recruited by schools from the DI Patriot League and MAAC. 
* In the sectional title game as a sophomore, he led the Gaelic Knights with 12 points, 12 rebounds, and 3 blocked shots.
* This article talks about Kaigler and a teammate competing to see who had the most dunks their sophomore season. I did that same thing with a teammate when I was in high school. It was a tie. In fact, I could have that same competition with Danny Devito over the span or our entire lives, and we'd tie at zero.
* There are some great quotes about Kaigler in this 2012 article and video from cnycentral.com. Just a sophomore, it was great to hear his coach say, "He just won an Ace leadership award through the school, so Dan has it in perspective of getting the academics first and athletics second."
* Geez -- the state legislature can really make winning a state championship seem boring.
* This link takes to you a MaxPreps page on Kaigler. It includes lots of photos and lists him as the #23 prospect in New York.
* For even more photos of Kaigler in action, follow this Syracuse.com link.
* Here's a quick 2013 TV studio interview with Kaigler, his coach and his teammates.

Bonus material for fans who read this entire post: I came across some recent rec league footage of Darrell Blanton. He's turning roller rinks and playgrounds into the Jammermill!

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Potential New Knight: Tony Boykins jr. G 6-2 180

I thought I was on top of every potential new Knight this off season. I've already featured St. Bonaventure transfer Jean Yves Toupane plus freshmen Marc Fabricius and Adam Holm-Weber. I'd heard from more than one source that Gannon was going to land a player from Sweden and a 6-foot-7 freshman from the D.C. area, and because I couldn't find information on them, I was just waiting for the official release from the school. While trying to find the names of those last two players, I Googled "gannon basketball signing" and was surprised by the third result on the first page.

It said "Boykins Signs With NCAA Division II Gannon University." When you follow that link, you learn that on April 30 Tony Boykins, a guard from Owens Community College in Perrysburg, Oh., signed to play for the Knights next season. Why haven't I heard this rumor yet? Was he not accepted to the school? Was there a change of heart? Or are Gannon fans (and me) asleep at the switch of the rumor train for nearly 4 months?

Let's assume this was a wake-up call and that Boykins will be a future Golden Knight. Here's some background on the 6-foot-2 guard:

* Played his first two years of college ball at Owens, an NJCAA Division II squad.
* This link will connect you to an interview with Boykins and OCC coach Keith Raine discussing the Gannon signing. Raine says, "He exemplifies everything that we try to preach. He got it done in the classroom -- he'll have over a 3.3 GPA when he graduates."
* As a sophomore team captain, averaged 8.6 ppg, 4.3 rpg, and 1 apg while starting all 31 games.
* Shot 47% from the field including 26.4% on threes (19-for-72) while playing 25 minutes a game.
* Connected on just 54.5% of his free throws (42-for-77).
* Scored a season-high 20 points in a 117-109 loss vs. Kalamazoo Valley CC. Made 7-of-14 field goals and all 5 of his free throw attempts.
* Exploded for 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting during an 84-76 win at Columbus State CC.
* He only scored 8 points during a Jan. 10 victory vs. the University of Akron Club team, but you've got to check out the box score from this 104-36 whipping. The score at halftime was 56-13, and Akron shot 5.3% from behind the arc.
* Was held to single digits for scoring in 19 games.
* His team finished 25-6 overall and tied for the OCCAC (Ohio Community College Athletic Conference) championship with an 11-1 record.
* Five players from Owens' team last year have signed to play at four-year colleges including Bikramjit Gill at Division I Ball State.
* Prior to his sophomore season, he was selected to play in the Mullens Junior College Showcase in St. Louis.
* As a freshman, averaged 9.4 ppg, 3.3 rpg and 1.1 apg and was named honorable mention All-OCCAC.
* The Express posted a 26-10 mark, advancing to the NJCAA Final Four.
* This workout tape of Boykins I found on YouTube offers interesting stats: a 6-foot-7 wingspan and a 36-inch vertical jump. 
* Starred at Loy Norrix High School in Kalamazoo, Mich.
* Was a first team all-Southwest Michigan Athletic Conference guard as a senior.
* This link says he scored 357 points as a high school senior, but it doesn't say over how many games. If we assume 25, that's about a 14 ppg average.
* This web page from MaxPreps says Boykins averaged 15.4 ppg and 8.1 rpg over 23 games as a senior.
* This article about Loy Norrix's division-clinching victory shows Boykins has passion for the game. It also features this paragraph: "The Blue Devils buried 8 of 14 shots in the third quarter to wipe out a 30-28 halftime deficit and take a 49-41 lead into the final frame. But Boykins & Co. weren't done yet. The 6-2 Boykins outscored Gull Lake by himself, 8-7, in the fourth."
* And you know John Reilly will adore this quote from that same article: "Boykins said that the Knights' ability to get stops reversed their fortunes. 'Defense, (taking) charges and discipline,' he said."
* This video from that same game shows Boykins scoring the game's final point before the crowd storms the floor.