Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dream Crushers: Loose Rock Stuns Nervous Knights

As I write this, it’s been about 24 hours since Gannon’s numbing, devastating, season- and era-ending 65-57 loss to Slippery Rock in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Last year when Gannon lost a tight game to East Stroudsburg in the second round, I felt bad. But this year is multiples of that awful feeling. In 2014, the Knights rallied from a 6-7 start to crash the postseason and exceed everyone’s expectations. This year, after soaring to a #2 seeding, the PSAC tournament championship, and winning 12-of-13 entering NCAA play, our expectations were above-the-gray-clouds-over-Erie high. Before the PSAC semifinals, a co-worker asked me how far Gannon could go. “They could win the national championship,” I replied without hesitation. (He responded with a laugh, “So I guess they’re favored against Kutztown?")

I felt uneasy Saturday watching shaky Gannon struggle with nothing-to-lose Slippery Rock early, and I got sick to my stomach as they fell behind in the second half. The second-best defensive team in the country gave up 36 points in a 15-minute span and, even shakier on offense, missed several shots at point-blank range. The game seemed out of sync from the opening possessions, except for when The Rock would get nothing but net on a three-pointer late in the shot clock. I texted my brother 10 minutes into the game saying, “This is the only kind of game Slippery Rock can win.”

I always feel depressed after Gannon basketball season ends. For months I’ve been engaged in 30+ GU games plus I keep a close eye on the rest of the PSAC and Atlantic Region. Then, just when you think the Knights have “the team” to extend the season into late March, it’s over. I hadn’t felt like this since 2009 when the 30-3 Knights ran into Central Missouri’s buzzsaw and lost a 12-point lead in the NCAA Elite 8. I can’t believe I’ll never watch Adam Blazek strip another unsuspecting big man. I’ll never see Girbran Smith nail another clutch jumper. Raphell Thomas-Edwards, who played not just with an injured wrist but a broken one most of the season, will never delight the Audi crowd with a one-hander in the lane. And we’ll never see A’Darius Porter or Rich Austin let out a primal scream to celebrate an old-fashioned three-point play.

So why in the name of Jerry Slocum am I smiling right now?

A couple things snapped me back to reality and made me recall maybe the most important aspect of college athletics. After avoiding basketball for a few hours after the Gannon/Rock game – I can’t take watching other teams play when Gannon is already done – I saw the score of the MAC championship between the University of Buffalo and Central Michigan was a close one, so I turned on ESPN2. I noted a player for UB looked a little like Chris Bosh … and then had that feeling of déjà vu. It wasn’t my imagination – I had actually seen 6-foot-8 Xavier Ford before.

Joe Mattis photos courtesy Gannon University
Ford attended Gannon’s Senior Day Feb. 25 to support Thomas-Edwards, his former UB teammate. As you probably know, RTE hails from England, so he wouldn’t have any family in attendance for the Senior Day festivities. Ford lifted Thomas-Edwards’ spirits by not just watching the game, but walking Thomas-Edwards to mid-court then breaking into hilarious poses for the senior’s photos. Instead of attempting to describe Ford’s moves, I’ve included the photos here. After trying to figure out exactly what moves Ford was busting, look at the expression on Thomas-Edwards’ face. Tremendous!

Watching Ford in the MAC title game (he led the Bobby Hurley-coached Bulls to the NCAAs with a game-high 18 points) and recalling his exploits at the Hammermill, my attitude changed. Yes, the Blazek Era is over which is too bad for us Gannon fans. But nobody – not Slippery Rock, not the referees, not the lid on the rim – can take away the camaraderie and friendships this team developed over the past two years. The end of the season is the beginning of real life for these guys, which is eons more important than who wins the Atlantic Region.

I never cried more after a sporting event than 25 years ago when my sophomore season ended with Gannon losing a heartbreaker to Morehouse (Ga.) in the Division II Elite 8 in Springfield, Mass. We never played again as a unit, but a quarter century later, I’m still part of that team. I regularly exchange emails with Chris Hollan (mostly about Gannon hoops – big surprise). We’re also connected on Facebook with Andy Adams. My LinkedIn connections include David Callahan and Gregg Blair. And for two of the last three soccer seasons, I’ve coached Jim Toohey’s son Declan.

You might think I’m applying my 45-year-old perspective to this situation and that the players won’t appreciate the special bond they developed until years from now. But Thomas-Edwards confirmed my thinking (and tugged at my emotions) with his early Saturday evening tweet. “People cry at the end but forget to smile at the JOURNEY,” he wrote. “Didn’t end how I hoped but I wouldn’t want the journey to happen any other way.” #GUMBB

Nationally syndicated sportswriter Norman Chad called this Gannon club a "team of destiny" many times on Twitter. They still are.

69 comments:

  1. Not a stellar first half, to say the least. The good news is that we are down by just one. Team looks like they are feeling some pressure. Rock playing like they have nothing to lose. Need to turn it around!

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  2. We are looking like we are one step slow out there.

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  3. Wish I could say 4th times a charm for slippery rock but they were nothing stellar. Sadly Gannon just picked the wrong day to not play a good game.

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  4. Bob is right. GU was at least a step slow on defense (cutting off drives or closing out on jumpers), a step slow to the glass (allowing 16-SIXTEEN!- SR offensive rebounds), a step slow on offense (shooting many shots from just a little further away). Played tentatively all day, and RTE, Porter, and Smith were way off their games. Blazek carried them for awhile, but then he quit shooting. Hardly any subbing in second half until it was too late. Players seemed tired. Very disappointing.

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  5. Unfortunate to play such a bad game at the most inopportune time. What a roller coaster of emotions, from an unbelievable high last Sunday to this crappy feeling I have right now.
    Anyway, disappointed but congrats to the team for a great year.
    I'm looking forward to seeing Klaigler play next year. IMO he is the real deal.
    RELOADING NOT REBUILDING !!!!

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  6. Hope I'm wrong, and I hate to disagree, but I have a feeling that it will be a while before we see GU get to this point again. Too much to replace all at once. Too little experience, with only Tupane back among starters. Unfortunately, we are talking rebuilding here. Major rebuilding. Hope I'm surprised, but right now, I don't see it.

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    1. We will definitely have a few transfers next year I'm sure

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    2. Observer - look at last year though. 4 brand new starters. Made it even further then they did this year. I'm not saying reloading retooling rebuilding etc but I wouldn't be surprised if they got to this point again next year or if they didn't even make psac playoffs. That's why you play the game!

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    4. Actually, at the start of 2013-14, GU started 2 new players (Porter and Dogan) and 3 returnees (Blazek, Newby, Oldham). It wasn't till late in the year that RTE and Smith started. I don't see that kind of experience returning. Tupane and Dogan should be back, Kaigler looks like a possible contributor, Jones is a solid defender. None of them have the kind of skills and experience that Blazek, Oldham and Newby brought to the table. Beerman is right that they have to bring in some transfers(and yes, some post players) that are ready to start if GU is to contend for PSAC honors again next season.

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  7. West Liberty is having no trouble scoring up 65-40 at half.

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  8. Maybe those extra hard practices ( That Porter mentioned in the article) are not the answer if the other team is saving their energy for the game. We should have been playing Livingstone how the Rock ended up seven I do not understand. I do not thing it really matters because IUP is fresh and on a roll. I see them in the finals.

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  9. That'll do it for Erie teams. Fairmont beats Hurst 68-63. Guaranteed to be PSAC vs MEC on Tuesday.

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  10. Did anyone happen to notice the very tall black kid at the IUP game. Gannon BB tee with #35 on the leg of his sweats????
    Anybody know who it was??

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  11. Ah, the subject of long practices rears it's ugly head yet again, perhaps for the first time this year. It IS a possible explanation for the case of dead legs that GU seemed to have contracted sometime before Saturday's game. Or is it possible that GU didn't take the Rock as seriously as they should have? Or is it possible that the pressure of the ridiculous notion (thanks, NCAA) of having to beat the same team 4 times in a season to advance? Maybe it was because the Rock played without the pressure of expectations, since they had nothing to lose, really. Pretty good chance that the explanation in there somewhere, probably some combination of the above. Certainly hope Bob's hard practices theory is wrong, but I'm guessing we'll never know.

    As for the very tall gentleman that attended the IUP-GU game last Sunday, I was told and also heard on sports talk radio that he and a couple friends came in from St Bonaventure to watch their former teammate, JY Tupane play for Gannon. He is supposedly a Bonnie player, not a GU recruit.

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    1. I would say that the explanation was the last two of Observor's points ... pressure of having to beat a rival four times in a season and SRU playing with nothing to lose.

      We've seen it in the D-I tournament a few times... a team that surprisingly get in plays like they just got a second lease on life. Both George Mason (2009) and VCU (2013 ish) are great examples. Neither team was picked to make he field and they played with no pressure at all. Both made the Final Four. Gannon looked stressed at times -- all the pressure was on them.

      That's was makes this so tough ... this GU team was seemed to be ready for a deep run in the NCAA's.

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  12. Kaigler will be the next Knight all-PSAC player if he returns. Next year ought to be fairly predictable. It'll be Reilly's 11th season. No matter who he brings in and who returns the formula is vicious defense and tenacious rebounding. And as Blazek said in his Times News interview, you work on shooting on your own time.

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  13. Nice comments, Jim. You're right. Still, I think next year's Slippery Rock game should be free admission and the first 3,000 fans in the door get a free pitchfork.

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    1. In favor 100%. Let's work on a sponsor for that.

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  14. Watching Slippery Rock give IUP a pretty darned good game today confirms, at least to me, that yesterday's win against Gannon was not an accident.

    They are a darned good team. The moment they were selected last Sunday evening to play Gannon, I'll admit I felt a twinge of anxiety.

    It was confirmed yesterday when they converted a very early missed free-throw into a rebound/put-back basket that they were going to make the game a dogfight the entire way. Hats off to them. They were able to create a game that made Gannon look a half-step slow. Gannon never stopped hustling the entire way, but, typical of the way the game unfolded, a fantastic team rebound at the late stage turned into a traveling call.

    We seemed a bit out-of-synch the entire game. It was never due to lack of effort. Playoff basketball produces results like this year in and year out. And, the fact that it was this groups' turn yesterday makes it especially difficult.

    I came back to the gym yesterday for the second session. Mercyhurst gave it all in their game against Fairmount. And, watching West Liberty put up 127 points seemed surreal.

    We can all dream of what a Gannon/WLU matchup would bring......but what I came back with this weekend is that we can all be proud of a fantastic Gannon team that gave it their best, but, came up a tad short on the court. Sometimes, that is what sports, and life, deal out.

    I must take back an observation on a previous post: West Liberty is a pretty darn good tournament host. Their fans are serious about their basketball, even appreciative of the contrasting styles of PSAC basketball versus their uptempo style.

    It was a fun, fulfilling season. For the departing seniors: Thanks for the great memories!! You are all well prepared for anything life will throw at you!!


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  15. Watching West Liberty I think you need two very good guards to beat them . IUP has the guards could be interesting tonight.

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    1. Should be a good watch. Of course, I was hoping to be on a bus to Wheeling for my dream matchup of Gannon vs. West Liberty, but we're going to have to settle for this one. These two teams played an epic double-OT matchup in the regional semis last year.

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    2. Irony (Part2)......an epic game in which guard Dyer hit a gigantic shot for West Liberty to keep the game going.

      The "irony" is, about a year later, he is now playing for IUP.

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  16. Irony: Missouri Coach Kim Anderson quoted in this morning's paper commenting on Kentucky.

    He was the Head Coach of Central Missouri, the team referred to above that blitzed Gannon with 3 pointers to end a dream season in 2009.

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  17. You beat West Liberty with two very good guards .

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  18. IUP wins 77-74. Norfleet with the winning 3 with seven seconds left. Great game. Could have been us. WLU looked very beatable.

    Sean Dyer (transfer from WLU) was leading scorer and now has a career postseason record of 26-4. Wow.

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  19. Looked at stats one jumps out turnovers IUP 7 WL 6 .

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  20. Congrats to IUP. They represent the best D-2 league in the country. An "Elite 8" team that is 1-2 against Gannon this season.

    Ouch!

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  21. Gannon has beaten plenty of teams that advanced to the Elite 8. But has Gannon ever beaten an Elite 8 team twice in a season before this year?

    Edinboro did it to us in 1989-90; they swept Gannon, but the Knights advanced to Springfield. Don't think that it ever happened in the GLIAC years because the GLVC dominated the region.

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  22. Worth noting that GU women also beat Atlantic Regional champ Cal twice this season.

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  23. If IUP loses again in the national title game, will they again walk off the floor without accepting their runner up awards?

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  24. Interesting fact on the teams in this years elite eight. Only one of them won their conference that being Florida Southern. Maybe winning the PSAC was our downfall.

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    1. Wow ... I did not know that.

      I am putting the blame squarely on Coach Reilly for winning the PSAC and ruining our NCAA hopes. :-)

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  25. Indiana's Elite 8 game is on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. I haven't checked, but I assume that it will be streamed on NCAA.com. I expect confusion to reign in Evansville on how a team called Indiana is coming to Indiana from Pennsylvania. And it'll get worse when the Indiana faithful tell everyone that they beat a team with a guy named Indiana Faithfull.

    Should be quite interesting!

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  26. Golden89: You are correct all the games will be streamed on the NCAA II home page. You find it at " Division II men's basketball home page" The quality is good.

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  27. A couple of GU-ish moments from the PIAA championships this past weekend:
    1. The starting center for the Seton LaSalle girls team was Morgan Henderson, the daughter of James "Big Daddy" Henderson. Had a nice chat, and James is still the same affable guy, just a bit less hair (I can relate!).
    2. Farrell is coached by Roland Shannonhouse. Chatted with him before his team came out for warmups. Like Big Daddy, still the same affable guy. Showed tremendous class as his team lost big, playing with several extenuating circumstances. Never complained, complimented his opponents and managed a tough situation with the feelings of his players as his top priority. I was as proud of his performance as if my kid was playing on his team.

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    1. Nice update!

      While perusing this weeks "SI", there is a cover story on Wisconsin's Frank Kaminsky. It opens with a description of his 6'10" father playing exhibitions with the "Marathon Oil" teams.....until he was 40.

      If memory serves me correct, didn't those teams visit Gannon for a few years for pre-season exhibition games? If so, "Dad" probably played some games here, I would think.

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    2. Boze: I knew about Big Daddy's daughter, but I wasn't aware of 'House coaching in the finals. I'm glad you took time to say hello to both of them. I can't believe Shannonhouse is pushing 50 -- he was one of the quickest guards I ever saw or played against.

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  28. This was just announced today. No arguments from me. And wow did Girbran Smith come a long way in a year-and-a-half!

    Gannon's Reilly Named Atlantic Region Coach of the Year; Blazek and Smith Named to All-Region Teams

    http://gannonsports.com/news/2015/3/23/MBB_0323153848.aspx?elinkdata=1029408

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    1. Wow! This makes the third straight season and fourth out of seven that Reilly has received a coach of the year accolade (Region 2009, 2015; PSAC West 2013, 2014).

      And to think that Gibran Smith was a benchwarmer when we rang in 2014. I remember asking someone if it was a mistake when he was listed in the starting lineup of the Cheyney game that was played at PS-Behrend.

      Congrats to Reilly, Blazek, and Smith on these well-deserved honors!!!

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  29. Cal women defeat Nova Southeastern in National Quarterfinal this afternoon, 84-79 in OT. Nova SE made Final Four in last year's Elite 8 at Erie Insurance Arena. (In case anyone cares, Miami Dolphins training camp is held at Nova SE every year)

    Gannon Lady Knights have two wins over a Final Four team!

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  30. Cal will play Emporia State in Wednesday's semi-final. Emporia State is the school that broke our hearts in 2010, ending Gannon's dream season in overtime in the Final Four. Emporia defeated West Texas State, the team that lost a late lead in a wild finish in last year's national championship game in Erie.

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  31. California Baptist just won the third quarterfinal, setting up the highly confusing possibility of a California vs. California Baptist national championship game. Cal Baptist was the five-seed in the crazy West Regional, in which all four quarterfinal games were won by the lower-seeded team.

    The women's D-II seims are on CBS Sports Network on Wednesday starting at 7:00.

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  32. The postseason hits keep coming for the Golden Knights. Blazek may be the first player in all-star game history to take a charge.

    Gannon's Blazek Selected to Play in NCAA Division II All-Star Game

    http://gannonsports.com/news/2015/3/24/MBB_0324151626.aspx?elinkdata=1030236

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  33. Watching the IUP / Azusa Pacific game on the internet and Evansville the hot bed of basketball has a crowed of about 200 people watching. Erie with the woman's elite eight out drew the men's last year. When talking to a NCAA rep last year I said we should bib on the men's tournament he told me our arena was to small. To host the men's you need 9000 seats that way when you watch the game it is impressive to see 8800 empty seats. IUP is down by two at the half.

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    1. The afternoon session typically gets terrible attendance. Will be interesting to see what kind of crowd Bellarmine brings as it is only two hours from Evansville.

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  34. IUP advances to the DII Final Four with a 69-65 win over Azusa Pacific. Chance leads the way with 17 while the defense holds APU to just 38% shooting. Box score link below:

    http://stats.statbroadcast.com/statmonitr/?id=88289

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  35. Check in on the Florida Southern /New Hampshire game I see the evening crowd poured in must be 300 people. California girls are down 1 at half time. That game is on 319 time warner. The DII men's semi finals will be on this channel tomorrow.

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    1. For the 2 minutes I checked in late in the game, Florida Southern had 3 dunks in a row: Their All-American (27 points), and, ex-Knights Steph Battle, and Bubby Johnson (minus the dreadlocks).

      Tough to watch. Torn whether to root for IUP or not in Final Four.

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  36. Cal girls win will be in the finals.

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  37. So the PSAC is 3-0 to date in the Elite 8 as the Cal women advance to the national championship game. The preview on NCAA.com said to expect a high-scoring game between two former champs. The score was 51-46.

    IUP will have its hands full against Tarleton State (TX) of the historically strong South Central region.

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  38. Former Prep guard Sheldon Zablotny recently signed with Florida Southern.

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  39. MAJOR KUDOS to Gannon SSID Dan Teliski for mailing to me DVDs containing the television broadcasts of Gannon in the PSAC semis and finals this year. I will keep them forever and watch them often. Thank you Dan!

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  40. IUP is going dancing! Would love to see them tango with Steph and Bubby!

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  41. So the PSAC West has a team in both the men's and women's national championship games. And Gannon beat both teams twice this season.

    It's both pretty cool and kind of maddening at the same time. Pretty cool in that it speaks vey well for our league (and nice to see Western PA teams do well). And it's kind of maddening in that if GU is good enough to beat them twice, then they could have made it with some better play when it mattered.

    Having said that, I'll for sure be rooting for Cal on Friday and IUP on Saturday for a PSAC West double national championship.

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    1. I'm def rooting for the Cal girls.... I'm torn between IUP/FSU guys. As much as I'd like to see IUP represent the PSAC with a national championship, I would like to see Battle get a championship as well. (i don't care if he defected from Gannon... he was a heck of a player for us and has been a heck of a player for FSU).

      Right now I'd say I'm leaning towards FSU, mainly because I can't just yet bring myself to say I want IUP to win... at anything... EVER :)

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  42. IUP will face #1 Florida Southern Saturday afternoon on CBS (3 PM ET). The Mocassins hit a three with 7 seconds left to knock off Bellarmine, 79-76. Former Knight Stephen Battle tallied 17 -- including an impressive alley-oop dunk -- in a winning effort.

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    1. While watching games on TV, I tuned into the D-2 games as well last evening. Already noted was the tiny crowd sizes for the games. I believe Erie would have provided a better atmosphere. Were there more that 450 people at both games? Perhaps. But, I doubt it.

      If I heard announcers correctly, Battle also notched 18 rebounds last night. The three-pointer was made by their All-American....who, seconds later was joined by his teammates as they all grabbed their their crotches and pointed at the Bellarmine crowd. Announcer, former Coach Steve Lappas was, to say the least, a bit miffed at the classless display.

      So.....The D-2 final game pits IUP ( We saw their sportsmanship following the PSAC final game) versus Florida Southern.

      It would be comical if nobody showed up.

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  43. It looked like there were way more than 450 fans for the semis, at least at the Bellarmine game.

    I'm over the whole IUP second-place ceremony. It wasn't a good look for IUP, but I'm not going to hold it against them forever. I noticed that there was no second-place trophy presentation at the NCAA Atlantic regional final. Someone rather unceremoniously handed the trophy to the IUP coach or players. They don't keep the second place team on the floor at the NCAA D-I championships (men or women). The West Texas A&M women's team didn't have to stick around to accept anything after they lost (imploded) to Bentley at the end of the D-II women's championship last year. The PSAC should look to eliminate it.

    It would be great for our league if a PSAC West school won the whole thing. And double-great if the Cal women won as well. Go Crimson Hawks.

    Who would have ever thought that the national championship game would pit a team that Gannon beat twice versus a team with two former Gannon players?

    One final aside ... It was pretty cool when the first question to Lombardi after his win against Tarleton State was how his team was able to bounce back after losing the conference championship game.

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    1. if anthing Coach Lombardi should be thanking Gannon... they've played their best basketball since they lost in the Championship to Gannon! We obviously made them strive to be better!

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  44. CBS Sports will show the Cal girls game on channel 322 tonight at 8:00pm. They are going to have a real challenge Baptist has a very good center.

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  45. And Cal women are the national champs! Win easily over Cal Baptist.

    IUP goes for the PSAC West double on Saturday!

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  46. IUP has trouble beating current and former Gannon players.

    Seriously, congrats to FSC and Stephen Battle and Bubby Johnson. Glad they found a place there they are happy and I'm sure they are thrilled to have played great basketball while not having to freeze their tails off all winter.

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  47. I was shocked to see Bubby's hair!!! When they were showing highlights, I figured that #1 was Bubby.... then they announced him as #4 and he walked out with practically the same cut as Battle... whoa!

    Congrats to both FSU and IUP. Regardless the reasons, Battle and Bubby had their reasons for leaving and obviously found their fit in Florida.

    Curious to see if FSU ends up anywhere in the rankings at any point next season... 5 senior starters and 3 off the bench!

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