Because of my daughter’s music recital at Mercyhurst Saturday afternoon (my family considered it a road game), I missed watching the beginning of Gannon’s contest at Seton Hill. But then thanks to the wonders of technology and WiFi, I was able to watch the last three minutes of the first half while we shopped at the Whole Foods Co-Op, enjoying Gannon grabbing a commanding 36-19 halftime lead.
Then the roof caved in.
No – not, the Co-Op roof. You’d have seen that on the local news. The Gannon defense completely fell apart, allowing a mediocre Griffin team to score 52 points in the second half on their way to a 71-65 final margin. Thank goodness the Knights rallied past Pitt-Johnstown (twice) on Wednesday, 71-70, or else we would be choking on a three-game losing streak right now.
One of the details that was lost during Gannon’s eight-game win streak in January was that the Knights allowed nearly 83 ppg during the first seven games of that stretch, including 88 to now 8-14 Cal, 97 at UPJ, and 104 to PSAC West cellar-dweller Clarion who just moved to 5-17 on the year. As I looked at my phone among the wheat germ and aspartame-free cola at the Co-Op, I thought to myself and texted a friend that if the Gannon defense keeps clicking, the Knights could hit the 20-win mark and make noise in the postseason.
Even though Gannon allowed Pitt-Johnstown to shoot 48% from the field Wednesday, including 42% on threes, I thought their defense was much improved from earlier in the season. The first time the teams hooked up, senior A.J. Leahey scored at will, knocking down perimeter shots without a hand in his face. His monster stat line that game: 34 points, 10/15 FG, 7/10 3FG, 9/10 FT. But Wednesday Leahey was forced into 7-for-17 shooting because Gannon bodied him all over the court, forcing him to adjust his release point because of the defender who was chest-to-chest with him.
That’s part of what made Saturday’s collapse so frustrating. Just when you think this new unit – remember, Matt Dogan is the only returnee who gets significant playing time – has finally grasped John Reilly’s smothering man defense, they allow a team that a week ago scored just 32 points in a 35-point loss to Slippery Rock to get comfortable.
The silver lining is that despite losing 2-of-3, the Knights are allowing just 71 ppg during that stretch. We all hope they stymie Cal and Clarion this week, and I'm praying they do it with defense.