|Tim Rohrbach photo compliments of Gannon University|
The reason I considered "semester" instead of "season" in the headline is that Gannon was ordinary in the first semester (just 6-7 and drawing the ire of many Gannon Hoops commenters) but brilliant in the second semester, posting an incredible 14-3 mark. But I think the first 13 games of the season are what truly made this campaign special. Winning 82% of your final 17 games is great, but doing that with the same roster after a sub-.500 start provided the context for a truly remarkable achievement.
I wish the season could have lasted a couple more weeks and ended only after a long run in the NCAAs, but that's just being greedy. Deep down, I'm thrilled that this team -- especially the seniors -- finished in their typical give-it-everything-you-got-then-give-a-little-more fashion. Think about the story C.J. Oldham can tell to prospective employers. First, he posted the highest grade point average among all student-athletes at the PSAC Final Four. Maybe more importantly, even when he was miles under the weather, he sacrificed himself, gave until it hurt, and willed his team to victory in their biggest game of the season. "I'll do the same for your team," he can tell the interviewer, who would have to be impressed.
I wrote Saturday about Jabs Newby and him persevering despite less playing time than he had been accustomed to. Roger Livramento and Brandon Emmitt can also for the rest of their lives tell the story about how they busted their tail for the good of the whole, performing their role to the best of their abilities whenever called upon. As I've said here before, that high-character behavior is more important than your winning percentage or assist-to-turnover ratio.
In the years these four seniors played at Gannon, did you ever see them saunter, mope, or not battle? Sure they made mistakes, but did you ever question their effort? I think that's a credit to those young men and the Gannon coaching staff who got the best out of this roster. If you don't believe me, watch the video of them taking the #2 team in the country to the wire despite illness and injury ... and some deplorable officiating. (Brief digression: East Stroudsburg's post defense was floptastic, often throwing themselves backwards when the Gannon big men made their moves. Late in the game, the GU post men froze when they got the ball on the block because the banging that had been allowed all year was suddenly an offensive foul. I rarely criticize officiating on this blog, but some of the calls Sunday were preposterous. Digression over.)
One of my proudest moments as a Gannon fan occurred just over 20 years ago -- March 11, 1994 -- when Bob Dukiet's Knights battled region #1 and nationally ranked California (Pa.) on the road in the NCAA tournament. Gannon was clearly out-talented but hung with the Vulcans for 39 minutes and 55 seconds. An off-balance, 16-foot bank shot by Cal in the closing seconds proved to be the difference in the 65-64 final score. I was so proud because that Gannon team worked incredibly hard all year, respected the game and every opponent, and more than fulfilled its potential.
I can say the same thing about this year's team. I was overjoyed when they fought past Charleston (W.V.) Saturday and filled with pride Sunday as I watched a patchwork lineup whittle a 19-point deficit to 5 in a hostile environment.
I'm disappointed with the loss, but I'm not sad. I'm appreciative of everyone in the program and thankful they gave us reason to be proud. This was a special season indeed.