Friday, November 6, 2015

Toupane, Byrd Impress Despite Exhibition Losses

I'm a big fan of Gannon hoops and maybe even a bigger fan of nothing-to-lose Division I exhibition games to tip-off the season. For diehards like us, these actually may be the most enjoyable contests of the year because there's zero pressure to win. My hopes for the games were for Gannon to not be humiliated (e.g. lose by 50+ or score in the 30s) with a bonus wish to have the lead at some point this weekend.

Those goals were achieved as Gannon hung with Pitt early before falling Friday night, 80-50, and then ran out of gas at George Washington Saturday, 92-47. And we got the bonus, too. Gannon led ACC heavyweight Pitt at the second media timeout, 7-6, with 11:47 to play in the first half. (See the photo accompanying this post if you don't believe me.) The Knights never had an advantage at GW, but did tie the game at 10 after falling behind 10-0.

The biggest question I had going into the season was where will the points come from? Two players who impressed me the most when Gannon had the ball were senior Jean Yves Toupane and freshman C.J. Byrd. Toupane led all scorers at Pitt with 21 but more importantly looked comfortable on the perimeter and moved well without the ball to get himself open. Last year Toupane was often the fifth option on the floor. This year he will often be the focus, and he responded confidently and aggressively. Byrd hit double figures both nights -- 10 vs. the Panthers and 16 vs. the Colonials -- but it wasn't like he just hit wide open shots. Byrd showed a quick release off the catch, an ability to drive by his man, and the skills to catch, fake, then hit a one-dribble pull-up from 20+ feet away. I don't want to overreact and say he's the next Adam Blazek, but those are two of very few Golden Knights who could pull off that move with success.

My biggest concern comes on the defensive side, but not because the Knights allowed 80+ points in both games. The officials called the games so ridiculously close, I fear Gannon's aggressive D may be neutralized this season by the NCAA's point of emphasis to "reduce physicality." If games are consistently called this close, John Reilly may need to quit coaching and go sell life insurance. In the Gannon/Slippery Rock games, both teams will foul out their entire roster and be forced to play the final minutes with intramural players.

After committing an average of 19 fouls a game last year, GU was whistled for 30 and 36 personals this weekend. George Washington was in the bonus just 3:55 into the game and nearly duplicated that feat in the second half when Gannon committed its 7th team foul just 5:24 in. Tony Boykins fouled out of the GW game with 18:29 to play after committing three fouls in a span of 82 seconds. I certainly don't want games to resemble wresting matches or return to the pre-flagrant foul era of the NBA, but calling every moment contact is made sucks the life out of the game. If I wanted to only watch free throws, I'd buy tickets to watch this guy.

Other thoughts on the exhibition weekend:
* Because of the complexity of Reilly's defensive rotations, it wasn't a giant surprise to see four returnees (Toupane, Boykins, Isaiah Eisendorf, and Marcus Jones) in the starting lineup. It was interesting to see the 6-foot-3 Boykins -- a wing player last season listed as a guard on this year's roster -- open at power forward both games. He posted up strong against much taller DI bigs and showed abilities on the block that should work against PSAC opponents.

* After seeing redshirt senior Jon Dogbo miss all of his shots in just 8 minutes at Pitt, I was happy to see him score 5 points (on 2-for-5 shooting) at GW. I expect Dogbo to be an impact player this year after practicing with last year's club, but he'll need the first few weeks to acclimate to game action.

* Speaking of adapting to a faster pace of play, freshmen Ian Gardener and Cyril Clarke looked nervous both games, hitting the backboard on jumpers, bobbling the ball, and committing unforced turnovers. It reminded me of when I would get into games. Despite hours of practice, your mouth gets dry, you can't feel your legs, and the ball feels like it's overinflated by about 50 psi. That feeling will wear off with more playing time. Or so I've been told.

* Gannon faced full court pressure both nights and didn't handle it well at GW. After committing 17 turnovers at Pitt, the Knights had a dreadful 29 vs. the Colonials' trapping D.

* Gannon was respectable on the boards despite being grossly outsized at every position. GU lost the rebounding battle to Pitt just 41-34 and were even with George Washington, 36-36.

* GW freshman Jordan Roland -- who looked sensational while scoring 10 points -- has an Erie connection. His father Rahsaah Roland starred for Mercyhurst as a diminutive point guard in the mid-90s. Thank goodness the kid didn't choose to play at his dad's alma mater.

* I was fortunate to attend the game at Pitt Friday and score tickets just three rows behind the baseline near the Gannon bench. (I was so close I took this photo of Toupane hitting a free throw with my iPhone.) My mission when I ran to the concession stand at halftime was to find a giant pretzel or bag of chips for my daughter. Apparently DI schools have moved beyond that fare because all I could find in the concourse were a Burger King, a pasta bar, and a Starbucks. That's right -- Starbucks at a basketball game. So I grabbed one blueberry and one raspberry muffin and thought to myself while walking back to my seat that it's un-American to eat muffins at a basketball game. But when Gannon went on an 8-2 run to open the second half while I stuffed my face, I thought I should bring a couple dozen muffins to eat at every game this season.

* And major kudos to my wife Barbara for figuring out how to air the Gannon/GW game on our living room television. More evidence I married way up.


  1. At first glance, these scores are obviously alarming when you look at the past 2 exhibition games gannon has played and only losing by narrow margins. Thats first glance though.

    We dig deeper and, to me, the biggest difference is this time out we faced an ACC opponent. Dayton and Siena do not play Duke and UNC year round like Pitt. GW has two straight twenty win seasons in a conference that isn't anything to snub at. Lastly, and probably the biggest difference, those 2 exhibition games we returned 4 starters... these 2 we featured 4 new starters (a SR who made some spot starts last year but at a completely different position, a RS SO who played some decent minutes most of last season but didn't necessarily look poised to take over the starting role, a true frosh, and a SO that played very sparingly last season). Please note that was not a slam against Jones - I was just simply stating I pictured him as a 6 man this year with the idea a starting PG would be brought in.

    I didn't think Gannon played too bad in either game. Pitt stepped their game up in the second half and Gannon just had no answer for it. As Jim said against GW, they were gassed.

    Anxious to see PSAC play (and kind of thankful we start with Clarion rather than IUP or rock).

    1. Hmmm.......I'm hearing Clarion will be a much improved team this season. The way I look at it, the entire league just might be the best Division II basketball league in the country.

      I sense that there will be very few easy league games for any team this season.

    2. I'm not doubting any of that... Just saying I'd rather be playing a Clarion rather than an IUP or Rock right off the bat.

  2. Jimmy, I was sitting probably 30 ft away with the Pgh alumni crew.

    Can't believe didnt see you

    Thought they looked young and tentative offensively, step slow, can't prep for that speed, like when do cat had us practice six on five to get ready for CW post. Mode the fact that they played hard and didn't back down on defense. All in all I thought they showed a great deal of heart

    1. JB: Great observations. I wish I was as observant Friday night! You should have recognized my from my playing days because I was sitting down the whole game.

  3. For entertainment purposes only ...

    Gannon Men's Basketball Team Ranked Seventh in Initial D2SIDA Atlantic Region Media Poll

    1. West Liberty (W.Va.) (4) 0-0 58 ---
    2. Indiana (Pa.) (2) 0-0 54 ---
    3. Fairmont State (W.Va.) 0-0 38 ---
    4. Mercyhurst (Pa.) 0-0 37 ---
    T-5. Bowie State (Md.) 0-0 25 ---
    T-5. East Stroudsburg (Pa.) 0-0 25 ---
    7. Gannon (Pa.) 0-0 19 ---
    8. Wheeling Jesuit (W.Va.) 0-0 16 ---
    9. Slippery Rock (Pa.) 0-0 14 ---
    10. Livingstone (N.C.) 0-0 12 ---

    1. Some other D1 Exhibitions:

      Siena def. IUP, 82-73 (Norfleet 18 Daddy Ugbede 16) *why does it feel like norfleet has played for 10 years now?
      VCU def. Manfield, 96-60
      St. Bonnie def. Mansfield, 108-48

      Seton Hill @ Duquesne, Fri 13th

    2. non-PSAC

      Western KY def KY Wslyn, 75-68
      Louisville def KY Weslyn, 77-68

      #1 Augustana def. Iowa, 76-74
      St. Thomas Aquinas def. St. Johns, 90-58 (wow!)

    3. Duquesne def. Seton Hill, 96-71

  4. I just read on the Clarion website that they have a ton of new players, many of them transfers from DI and DII clubs. Three of the newcomers are namesakes of their legendary basketball-playing fathers: Roland Shannonhouse (Gannon), Kwame Morton, Jr. (Clarion), and Larry Johnson, Jr. (UNLV), who played sparingly the last two seasons at Youngstown State for former Gannon boss Jerry Slocum.

    Here's the complete roster breakdown:

  5. Another factor in Clarion's advantage is that the November 18 game against Gannon will be their third game of the season. I don't understand why we don't have a game this weekend. It's tough to open your season with a league game that determines playoff seedings and home court.

    In the PSAC, 14 of the 17 other schools play this weekend. Only Edinboro, Seton Hill, and Cheyney do not.

    The women's team also opens up this weekend.

  6. A co-worker shared with me this great blog entry about Allegheny football and how sports goes way beyond wins and losses. I think it will tug at your emotions.

  7. Clarion has started the season 0-2, losing both games at the Shepherd (WV) tournament this weekend. The Golden Eagles lost to Wheeling Jesuit, 90-78, on Saturday and then lost just before the buzzer to host Shepherd today, 89-87. It will be interesting to see how many points Clarion's fast-paced attack manages Wednesday vs. the Knights.

  8. IUP blew a 14-point halftime lead and lost at home to Bowie State, 76-72, on Saturday. I'm guessing last year's Crimson Hawks rarely (if ever) gave up 45 points in a half.

    Slippery Rock was held to 19 first-half points and lost to St. Augustine's, 60-50, Saturday.

    1. just keeping an eye on other teams that we could run into down the line...

      West Liberty seems to be right up where they always are.
      def. Mansfield, 114-65
      def. Cal U, 108-74

      but their schedule does pick up as they play intimidating non-conference Ohio Valley, who has already spanked PSU-Beaver, 103-65.

      Then West Liberty gets into the nitty gritty conference schedule starting with ND Ohio and Urbana to round out November... think they break 150 points at any point???

  9. Rough start for the PSAC. Not exactly best-league-in-the-country stuff. The only thing for sure is that the PSAC is the biggest league in the country.

    All that really matters, anyway, is that the PSAC is the best league in the region. Given some of these results, I'm not exactly sure. Hope that we can get our 4-5 NCAA bids that the league has earned the past few years. It's reasonable to expect that Gannon will be in the 4-5 best teams in the PSAC most seasons.

    1. Surprising results, for sure.

      Let's just get a win down at old, venerable Tippin Gym!

  10. Gannon certainly didn't play a couple of slouches in its exhibition schedule. Pitt was leading #9 Gonzaga at halftime when their game was cancelled due to floor conditions, and I just watched George Washington handle #6 Virginia.

    Division II #1 Augustana shocked Iowa in their exhibition ... and then the Augies lost their season opener to Wabash. No wonder coaches go crazy!