|C.J. Oldham's season-saving tip-in.|
The Knights were running uphill. They had been outscored by 19 over the last 24 minutes of action, were racking up the turnovers, and team catalyst Adam Blazek hadn't scored a field goal. At that point, would you have bet money Gannon was going to survive and advance? But from that point on, Gannon held the athletic and skilled Golden Eagles to just 11 points, not including a desperation heave at the buzzer.
Also gratifying is that everybody who was on the floor contributed. With 3 minutes on the game clock and 3 seconds on the shot clock, Girbran Smith faked, dribbled, and hit a 16-footer near the free throw line as the buzzer sounded, breaking a 58-all tie. When the Knights trailed by 1 with under 90 seconds to play, senior C.J. Oldham -- who didn't start and played only 16 minutes -- outjumped and outefforted everyone else to tip in Smith's miss, giving Gannon a 62-61 lead. That was the score (after a Raphell Thomas-Edwards block) when Blazek stepped to the line with an "0-for" hanging over his head. Mr. Clutch hit both, then A'Darius Porter grabbed his 11th rebound and hit both ends of his 1-and-1 as well to clinch the victory.
Bottom line (in my opinion): On this night, Charleston looked better than Gannon. But the Knights were tougher on the court and between the ears. Gannon's 14-0 start was executed by a calm team against a jittery one. And Gannon executed in the final minutes while UC missed free throws and was discombobulated in their half-court game.
Teams "step up their game" in the postseason, but I suspect this was not the most difficult situation the Knights have faced all year. Not only did the PSAC West prepare them for this moment, but John Reilly's never-relax-for-a-second approach to the game pushed them over the finish line tonight.
A few other thoughts on the game:
* I really have to hand it to Jabs Newby. The kid had reasons to quit working hard -- heck, even quit the team -- but he came through tonight when the Knights needed him. Newby shocked everyone by starting, playing 16 solid minutes (only 1 turnover), and hitting for 8 points, including just his second three-pointer of the season. Former Gannon coach Bob Dukiet would always preach "sooner or later ... sooner or later you'll get your chance." Tonight was Newby's time, and he came through.
* When has Charleston seen a defense like Gannon's all year? The Knights are special on that end of the floor.
* Speaking of defense, before Smith hit his big jumper to snap the 58-58 tie, Gannon was getting killed inside by big man Aleksander Kesic. So Reilly switched to a 1-2-2, collapsed on Kesic, and forced a long jumper. Even the most anti-Reilly Gannon observers have to applaud that move.
* Thank goodness Girbran Smith didn't pick up his 5th foul down the stretch. He finished with a game-high 21 on 8-of-15 shooting. He deserves tons of credit for continuing to work despite very limited playing time earlier in the year.
* Two questions I don't have answers to: Does anybody know why Oldham did not play the first 10 minutes of the game? And was Tee Talley in uniform? I was told he didn't make the trip but haven't had that confirmed.
* I know the answer to this question: Who would have thought Gannon would win an NCAA game with Blazek ending the night 0-for-7 from the field? Nobody. Blazek was harassed all evening by super-quick UC guard Tino diTrapano -- UC knew where Blazek was all evening long and really bodied him up. However, the junior missed his share of open looks. Blazek has played a lot of ball, but this was his first-ever NCAA tourney game.
* Gannon was about 4 inches away from playing #8 seed Livingstone Sunday night at 7:30. The Blue Bears rallied from 10 down late but left a jumper short just before time expired in front of a capacity crowd at East Stroudsburg. The result was an ESU victory, 99-98. The announcers said after the game back in 1990 Stroud won an NCAA game by that same score (vs. Slippery Rock in overtime). Guess what happened the next evening? The Warriors had their season ended by Gannon. All of Erie is hoping for a repeat of that.
* I wanted to keep on this site to a link to this web page assembled by the Gannon sports information department. You can access everything you need to know about the Atlantic Region tournament from there.