the Knights rallied past Indiana (Pa.), 69-66, to earn the PSAC Tournament Championship in one of the most intense, well executed, and memorable games in Hammermill Center history. Part of me wants to just stop writing now and watch Girbran Smith's ultra-clutch totally-contested high-arching game-winning three-pointer 50 more times.
seems almost insulting to those who participated in a game of this
magnitude to talk about tactics, strategies, and miscues. Can you
believe in the biggest game of the season Gannon was outrebounded,
27-26, including allowing 10 offensive boards? Why did IUP stop pressing
and attacking after they took a 66-61 lead with 3:32 to play? Those
questions seem inconsequential and don't capture the essence of this
So let's not talk about what happened between the
lines. What I saw from this team after the game was an outpouring of
genuine emotion, not for themselves but for each other. Instead of
showboating to the crowd after the win, reserve Rich Austin -- who
sacrificed more playing time and shot attempts when he transferred to
Gannon from Lake Erie College -- broke down in tears. His teammates
hugged him and he certainly hugged them back. Before the PSAC administrator handed Austin his plaque, the senior wiped tears from his face. Austin played only 17 minutes vs. Indiana, but his 10 points were decisive.
thought to myself before this weekend's games that I felt this special
group of Gannon players deserved to win the conference tournament. The
only way you're remembered as a special team (vs. a very good team) is
to win a postseason championship, and I felt this team deserved
that. They've played harder and more cohesively than any other squad I've
watched closely over the past 30+ years. They've never acted like
knuckleheads and never taken a game off. The starters, the key reserves,
and the bench guys have pulled for each other all season long. I felt
they were a special team, but they needed to earn their place in Gannon
basketball history. They certainly did that, and in memorable fashion.
More observations from a great day of Gannon basketball:
First and foremost, the NCAA tournament awaits for the Knights March 14
and hopefully March 15 and 17 in West Liberty, WV. The bids were
announced just after 10:30 PM, and I have to admit my head is still
spinning from who Gannon will face in the opening round of the Atlantic
#1 West Liberty (host) vs. #8 Livingstone
#2 Gannon vs. #7 Slippery Rock
#3 Indiana (Pa.) vs. #6 Glenville State
#4 Fairmont State vs. #5 Mercyhurst
I had listed my predictions for the field, I had four categories:
Locks, Very Likely In, Likely In, and Pretty Much Hoping The Committee
Gets Drunk And Submits The Wrong Team. After getting obliterated by Gannon, 71-45, in the PSAC quarters
and stumbling through the month of February with two starters
suspended, there was no way I thought Slippery Rock was going to receive
a bid. They were already on the bubble at #7 in the region with an
18-10 mark, and #5 Bowie State had advanced to the CIAA semifinals
before ending its year 21-7 in the region. I guess this is a compliment
to the PSAC West that their fourth place team makes the NCAAs ... or
maybe the committee actually was drinking Yuenglings all day long.
Imagine if you're Bowie State. The week started with you sitting at #5
in the year's final regional rankings with your conference tournament
complete. A team two spots behind you gets smashed in its only game of
the week ... and they move ahead of you.
* It was
fitting that the game ended on a deflection by PSAC West
Defensive Player of the Year A'Darius Porter and ended up in the hands
of four-year starter Adam Blazek. After Porter caught a piece of IUP's
long inbounds pass, Blazek secured the ball and held it near the Gannon logo at
midcourt and 20 feet in front of his parents who have watched him play about a hundred games at the Audi.
I wonder if IUP will receive any grief from the PSAC for not being on
the floor to accept their second place trophy. PSAC West Player of the
Year Devonte Chance walked off even before shaking hands. Maybe it's not
a big deal, but the poor IUP manager who accepted the trophy will never
be booed that loudly for the rest of his life.
situation led to a great line by a Gannon fan sitting behind me. Because
IUP coach Joe Lombardi left his coaching box several times during the
game to argue calls, the fan said, "He was on the floor the whole game
but he can't come onto it now when he's supposed to?"
* Lombardi has questioned his team's mental toughness publicly, not just once but at least twice
after facing Gannon, and I wonder if he's doing that privately now
after his team's late collapse Sunday. The Crimson Hawks had riddled
the Gannon defense all afternoon, but seemed afraid to win after taking
5-point lead with 3:32 to play. Here are IUP's final possessions:
1:59 Missed three-pointer
1:21 Missed layup
The long gap between the final two possessions was due to an allowed offensive rebound.
is an excellent basketball team, but multiple times this year they've
struggled to close the deal. However, if both the Knights and Crimson
Hawks take care of business in the NCAAs, IUP will have a chance to make
up for today's devastating loss.
* Girbran Smith went
nuts in the first half, scoring 22 points from all angles. He was
stymied in the second half thanks to a switching IUP defense and foul
trouble that limited him to 13 minutes of action. Smith left the game at
the 6:19 mark with his fourth foul, and when IUP made its move on its
ensuing possessions, I tried using mental telepathy to get John Reilly
to put Smith back onto the floor. I'm glad I don't have that superpower
because Riles was right to save Smith for the stretch.
I mentioned last post that I've been tracking points allowed by Gannon
in 5-minute increments. Today's second half was especially telling. GU
allowed just 5 points in the first segment which enabled them to
maintain their 7-point halftime advantage despite cold shooting. During
the next two segments they allowed 9 and 12 points, causing them to lose
the lead. IUP tallied 5 more in the first 90 seconds of the final
segment, making their lack of execution down the stretch even more
he sent a Tweet to 53,000+ followers calling Smith "the Bahamian Reggie Miller." Quite appropriate!
I'm sure on Monday this team will get back to business and focus on the
NCAAs, but I'm glad they got to enjoy a celebration on their home
court. Everyone wearing maroon and gold was downright giddy. I snapped
this picture on my phone of a longtime Gannon supporter getting a moment
with game hero and PSAC tournament MVP Girbran Smith. The senior has
been knocked around quite a bit in that gymnasium. It was great to see
him get a moment with someone's arm around him.