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.

13 comments:

  1. No comments yet? Everyone must be exhausted. On several occasions it seemed like GU had run out of gas, but they always seemed to reach back and find second wind. And a third wind. And a fourth wind ... Do they ever get tired?

    Great up-tempo double-overtime basketball game. Lots of ups and downs on both sides. And the players have to come back tomorrow to play again (plus take any final exams this week).

    Gannon won despite shooting 18/30 from line, giving up 12(!) three-pointers, and committing 17 turnovers. A 55-32 rebound deficit makes up for a lot of other deficiencies.

    Funny stat of the game: Porter was held out for the first ten minutes (no idea why ... seemed like a coaches' decision for either for strategy or doghouse purposes). but still wound up playing 40 minutes of basketball tonight.

    RTE was a beast. 16 points, 17 rebounds, zero turnovers before fouling out.

    The 72-65 lead in the first OT became a 73-72 deficit in just 30 seconds. Would have stunk to lose that way, but we don't have to worry about it.

    Great win ... 5-0 in the PSAC. We surely are getting ahead of ourselves, but if we see those guys again in March, it would be nice to be playing them at the Hammermill Center.

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  2. A tradition unlike any other ... Gannon and West Chester going down the final possession.

    Except this time we won!!

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  3. Maybe this team DOES win the close ones. Something new this year, :)

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  4. Two big wins. Reilly's substitution methods were very questionable. Versus ESU he didn't make a substitution from the last two minutes of regulation and both over times. Just seemed ridiculous but we got the win so I can't complain too much. And vs west Chester I don't think Toupane should be in when were trying to break the press. He can't handle the ball very well and it looks like he travels almost every time he touches it but his three in the corner was clutch. It also appears that smith, blazek, and even jones are driving to the basket more , which I love. But that doesn't work well when you shoot under 70% from the free throw line.

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    1. Congrats on win #400 for Coach Reilly!

      Mmccoy, what substitutions would you have made in the final segments of ESU game? And, why would you have made them?

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    3. I would have had Austin in instead of Toupane. I think rich Austin needs more pt. Toupane had a huge rebound in I think the second overtime and we won the game, but to have those same five in for 14 minutes without even playing someone else seemed questionable.

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    4. Indeed, when Austin is in the game, he produces. His time will increase as the season progresses. (I don't think he hits the shot that Toupane made last night from the range it was made from, though.)

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    5. While I've said from the beginning I can't believe Austin doesn't play more (especially when he scores 6 pts in 9 mins one game and 4 pts in 3 mins another) I've become more aware of a key stat for him: 4 tos in 9 mins and 2 in 3 mins. If you watch the highlights you can see sometimes he's close to committing more. I have a feeling they are working with him on his hands and decision making. I see that improving in time and if so I think he'll see more floor action.

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  5. Both players bring a little flavor to the team. You have to stir things up a little to keep the other team off guard. The coach is doing a great job stirring things up. GoGannonGo Happy Holidays'

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  6. And.....a tremendous shot by Matt Dogan!!.......Nothing but net to essentially win the game.!! Shooters shoot!

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  7. Forgot to mention in a prior comment ... Congratulations to Coach Reilly on 400 career wins! To put it in perspective, a coach needs to average 20 wins a year for 20 years. That's a lot of winning for a long period of time.

    Good comments about the West Chester coach. How would some of these coaches have reacted in the days when 2,000 fans would regularly fill the Hammermill? The best coach at handling the fans was John Beilein when he was at LeMoyne. He would respond back with a funnier comment that the ones the fans made.

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  8. Next time Slippery Rock is in town (PSAC's ??), Jim will have to give us a blow-by-blow of Kevin Reynold's antics. In the recent Gannon era,, I think he takes the cake.

    All time? Gotta include John Cheney, no?? Didn't he actually run up into the stands once, and, sit in a seat??

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