Sunday, March 8, 2015

Knights Earned, Deserved PSAC Championship

I've written over 500 posts on this Gannon Hoops blog, so you'd think I'd have this down cold by now. But I honestly don't know what's the right thing to say after 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.

It 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 game.

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.

I 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 Regionals:
    #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

When 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.

* The 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:
    2:31 Turnover
    1:59 Missed three-pointer
    1:21 Missed layup
    0:15 Turnover
The long gap between the final two possessions was due to an allowed offensive rebound.

IUP 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 puzzling.

* Norman Chad, the stepfather of Gannon freshman Isaiah Eisendorf and nationally syndicated sports columnist, watches his "Division II Team Of Destiny" via video feed every game. Shortly after today's thriller, 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.

32 comments:

  1. What a game! One of the best post-season championship games in Hammermill Center history! It looked bleak down 66-61, but GU finished the game on an 8-0 run.

    Hard to believe that 14 months ago, Gibran Smith was a benchwarmer. When he started the Cheyney game at Behend, we were all stunned. Now Norman Chad (Isaiah Eisendorf's stepfather) tweeted that he is the Bahamian Reggie Miller.

    Question -- Gibran Smith's shot was the biggest Gannon three pointer since ___________________________


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    1. Steve Moyer went bonkers vs. Wayne State, with half of his 3's coming from near mid court.

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    2. Nope.

      Hands down, in my opinion:

      Mike McDougall (RIP): the one he made against St. Michaels (I think...), ensuring Gannon home court in their playoff run in the 1986 season.

      To me, the loudest the "Audi" has ever been in my life.

      Shot was made right in front of where Gary miller sits.

      Audi historians: I may need some help, but, I think that was THE biggest!!!

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  2. Selections start in just under 2 1/2 hours. No real suspense on the men's side ... just who Gannon plays. GU and IUP will be 2 or 3 and might meet again one week from today if the seedings hold. Will be stunned if it's not the eight teams listed in Jim's writeup.

    The big suspense is on the women's side. What to do with Livingstone? The player is still appealing. They could be the 1 seed and host or they could be out altogether. Gannon appears to be safe, and the PSAC is likely to get five teams (IUP, Cal, Bloom, WCU, GU). If Livingstone is booted, it could open the door for Edinboro.

    Three local teams in the NCAA's are likely (GU men, GU women, Mercyhurst's first bid) and it could be a record four Erie County teams.

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  3. Gibran Smith is one of those players who wants the ball when the games is on line. He has ice water in his veins and is great under pressure.

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  4. No one thinks Gannon has a shot at hosting??? I don't care what the records are.. WLU got pummeled by an unranked team (and five seed in tournament) in the semis... We won our conference, beat the "better" team (IUP 2 in region, 20 in country).

    Not saying I think they will get it, but I'd like to think they have as good a shot as WLU.

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    1. Gannon lost to Millersville, UPJ, and Cal.

      WLU build up such a large lead that they can afford a loss.

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    2. Pretty much as Golden89 said. West Liberty had such a lead, that they could have lost 2-3 games in a row and still hosted.

      What a win by the GU Men, considering how sluggish the season started, I firmly believe that no team wants to go against us in the NCAAs

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    3. We need Budd Elwell this hour!

      (Millersville, then I think, #3 in the Country, had to come up to Gannon to play purely from the economical standpoint he negotiated!!!......circa 1986!)

      (C'mon Bud......help us with Divine Intervention!!!)

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    4. Millersville was #1 in country in 1987. That was back when region took highest bid rather than just highest seed. Gannon was not #1 in region when hosted in 1986, 1987, 1988, and 1990.

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  5. This game was one of those classics that will be long remembered. What a game!! Gannon should host the regional because we got the best fans in the region. And the best team in the region.

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  6. Women get #6 seed against Bloomsburg. Livingstone doesn't get in despite being #1 in region with ineligible player controversy. Edinboro is likely #9 and out.

    GU / Bloom winner plays winner of IUP / Shepherd. Cal is hosting.

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  7. Girls got 6th playing bloomsburg at CalU. Should be interesting.

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  8. Really surprised Rock remained at 7 and honestly made it at all. Figured with Livingstone and Glenville St. Wins that would knock out 7 Rock and 8 concord; not 5 Bowie state and 8 concord. Not thrilled we have to play rock again for a 4th time. Would've liked to have seen glenville get 7 for a revenge match :)

    Big congrats to Manchel and Mercyhurst on making it for first time ever and even moreso for claiming 5th spot. I'd be interested to see them play WLU should they both advance.

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    1. Echo both sentiments. Stunned that Rock made it and Bowie did not. Hate playing a team for the fourth time, but SRU is also without two top players.

      And congrats to Mercyhurst for their first-ever NCAA bid. Long time coming. A WLU / Hurst matchup could be fun. Laker defense is tough to play against.

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    2. So, did Slippy Rock officially say the two players, including the one who bailed from West Liberty, were suspended? The last thing I saw about that issue was that the two players were benched because of a "coaches decision" (according to the SRU student newspaper).

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    3. I don't think there will ever be anything officially announced, but when two guys don't dress for the team for a month, you can surmise they've been suspended. But, who knows? Maybe those guys will suddenly be back in the SRU lineup and shoot lights out Saturday.

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  9. How did slippery rock get in?

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  10. Slippery Rock? Slippery Rock? Very likely to see Gannon-IUP in the second round. Holy cow!!

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  11. How did our blog host nail "the Rock" getting in?? Great call!

    Jim: What is tomorrow's lottery number???

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  12. Gannon opponent Alderson-Broaddus won the GMAC Conference Championship over the weekend, nipping Kentucky Wesleyan by 3, but they did not receive an NCAA bid. The GMAC winner will receive an auto berth next year.

    http://gobattlers.com/news/2015/3/8/MBB_03_08_15_GMAC_Championship.aspx

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  13. Great writeup on the game by Tony Coccagna in today's Indiana (Pa.) Gazette. He always secures lots of interesting quotes from Coach Lombardi and got some good ones from Coach Reilly in this piece:

    https://www.indianagazette.com/news/indiana-sports/mens-basketball-iup-falls-short-in-psac-title-game,21645138/

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  14. Just received this note from JRD about Gannon's former A.D.:

    Our old friend Mark Richard's Montevallo Falcons won the PBC Conference and are the # 2 seed in the Southeast Region..

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  15. A replay of the PSAC men's championship airs tonight at 9 PM. If someone could get me a DVD of the broadcast, I would be eternally grateful.

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    1. I know that CUTV typically uploads their games to YouTube; I'm not sure if this one will be (I know the SRU-Gannon double overtime game is on YouTube; I did play-by-play for that game), but I'd check YouTube first.

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    2. Good tip. Gannon SSID (Super Sports Information Director) Dan Teliski sent me the You Tube link to the entire GU/IUP broadcast this afternoon. Here it is:

      http://youtu.be/7Hei04IZk4E

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  16. Jim, I'm not a real fan of some of the new metrics (points per possession, etc), but your "5 minute segment" stat is: 1. enlightening, and 2. easy to follow and make an informed opinion. Enlightening in that it breaks down the game into periods that one can assess effort, turning points and strategy. Easy to follow in that there are only 2 parts: 5 minute segments and points allowed. Even I can do this cyphering! As for the DVD, it's my understanding that Dan will have access to put the games on the Gannon Athletics site. You might want to give him a call. I spoke with the producer from Cal-TV. He said his students were really excited to do the games and have them on PCN. When Gibran hit the game-winner, the color analyst said it would go down as one of the greatest shots in GU history. At first blush, I thought it was a little cheeky. Then I stopped and said, "He's Right!"
    Finally, the women's game vs. Bloomsburg (noon, Friday) will be broadcast live on WERG-FM. Don't know by whom, but it is on the schedule

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    1. Thank you, Boze -- for the kind words and the great information. This was certainly a game to remember ... but I will need the video to make sure I do!

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  17. Contacted the SID's at California and West Liberty. California has a web site up that will have live scoring but there will be no web cast to watch. West Liberty is having a web site and said there will be live streaming of all the games available.

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  18. The women's team and the men's team play approximately 60 miles apart. Are there any plans for bus trips?

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