Reilly just guided Gannon to perhaps the most exciting two weeks in college basketball history. After a pair of overtime victories to start January, the Knights won three games this week with two going to OT: Monday at Pitt-Johnstown, 105-97 in OT, Wednesday at rival Edinboro, 80-69, and Saturday vs. Clarion 110-104 in 2OT. The Knights have at least 12 more games to play, but even if the season ended right now, we'd have a bunch of stellar victories to reminisce about.
Heart-pounding wins aside, I'm a Reilly fan because he's assembled and maintained a program the Gannon community can be proud of -- free of embarrassments, arrests, academic chicanery, and preening, knucklehead players. He also pushes kids beyond their limitations. Take Jimmy Berger and Zay Jackson over these last five games. They've each played a total of 222 minutes (an incredible 44.4 minutes per game), and still performed at a high level. You don't do that without someone pushing you outside your comfort zone.
I know firsthand that Coach Reilly helps young men break new barriers because he was an assistant during my four years as a Gannon walk-on. I always took pride being in top shape -- I ran 6.2-mile races as an 11-year-old, and during my four-year high school basketball career was substituted for only three times. But Riles pushed me even further.
When Bob Dukiet was named head coach at Gannon in 1989 after my freshman year, he originally didn't plan on taking walk-ons. And I don't know this for sure, but I'm fairly certain Riles lobbied Dukiet to keep me on the team. Riles asked me to visit the office over the summer to help stuff envelopes where I could also engage with Coach Dukiet. He also put me through a workout I will never forget. Riles ran the middle of the court, dribbling and passing, while I filled the right lane and shot jumpers and layups. We sprinted the full length of the Audi repeatedly until my lungs burned.
When he slowed down and said, "OK," I put my hands on my knees. But he tossed me the ball and said it was his turn to shoot the ball and my turn to pass. I didn't think I had the energy, but we ran hard for the next several minutes before he paused again and said, "Left side now." If it was anybody besides my coach, I would have said, "No, man -- I'm taking a break." But we pounded up-and-down the wooden floor again and again for several more excruciating minutes, Riles leading me with passes and I could only catch up to at full speed.
It's hard to say exactly what impact that workout had on my life, but I know when I was interviewing with the company who is now my employer, my soon-to-be-boss said with a laugh, "We know we don't have to worry about your work ethic -- you're the Energizer bunny." Riles also showed me during that workout that people don't work for you; they work with you and you better work with them. I kept running that afternoon because I wanted to keep my spot on the team. Why was he running? What did he have to gain from sprinting until the muscles in his legs were fatigued? He was doing it for my benefit.
It was fitting that Reilly's 200th win came in a game where his team outrebounded the opponent by a wide margin (50-33) and Gannon's Damon Miraud set a career-high with and incredible 22 boards. For 30+ years, John Reilly has helped young men achieve their full potential.
Other observations from a wild week of Gannon hoops:
Other observations from a wild week of Gannon hoops:
- Matthew Dogan's game-tying, buzzer-beating three against Pitt-Johnstown is now available online via the Gannon Athletics Twitter feed. Just click here to see the well-executed play.
- Scroll to the bottom of this post to see my most embarrassing moment in Gannon Hoops blog history. I could have deleted it, but it will be a good reminder for us all to never give up on this team.
- John Reilly's player rotation plan Wednesday against Edinboro matched my lunch plan for that day: one sub. Joe Fustine was the only bench player to see action, spelling Evan Phoenix for 9 minutes in the first half.
- Edinboro's shot selection against Gannon was similar to Donald Trump's word selection. While the Knights beat Edinboro's zone with a high volume of passes, shooting only after the defense was caught out of position, the Scots often attempted contested, off-balance shots after one or fewer passes. Jaymon Mason was 6-of-25 from the field while EUP posted a 41% shooting chart overall. Sad!
- What's the deal with the warm-up shirt for Clarion's Manny Powell (pictured here)? He wears uniform #3, but his shirt sees it differently. #YouHadOneJob
- This week's games saw two incredible shots for Gannon opponents. For UPJ, a line drive first half pass from the right wing deflected off Dogan's arm and ricocheted into the basket. For Clarion, Cameron Grumley ended the first half with a heave several steps beyond half court. We can laugh at those shots now, but had the Knights lost those OT games, we'd be sobbing.
UPDATED 1/9/17 9:43 PM: I watched the first half of tonight's Gannon/UPJ game but then the video stopped working. Sigh -- life as a Division II fan. So I followed the game via live stats and, upon seeing Gannon down three with 3 seconds left and needing to go length of the floor, figured this one was over. So I updated this post with what I thought would be the final score (see screen grab below) ... and then Matt Dogan banked in a 40-footer to tie the game at 87 and send it into OT, Gannon's third straight game with an extra session. The score in the headline now is correct -- the Knights win in OT, 105-97. The Cardiac Kids from Peach Street have done it yet again!