Wednesday, March 1, 2017

How You Gonna Deal With Pressure?

Photo by Joe Mattis, courtesy of Gannon University
I don't think a Gannon basketball team has ever been a bigger underdog for a home playoff game. Heading into their do-or-die PSAC Quarterfinal vs. Pitt-Johnstown, the Knights had lost two of three while the Mountain Cats had won five straight, their two most recent victories shellackings of Slippery Rock (93-65) and Seton Hill (112-53). Furthermore, Gannon's two wins against UPJ this season both came after last-second heroics, so it was hard to imagine lightning would strike three times.

With the season on the line, Gannon responded to the duress by doling out some pressure of their own. The Knights harassed Pitt-Johnstown on the perimeter and then attacked relentlessly on offense, racing to a 77-67 victory, undoubtedly their best overall performance of the year.

John Reilly said on his coach's radio show before the game that defensively the Knights were going to focus on ball pressure. The intent was to slow down the PSAC's best three-point shooting team by contesting their attempts and interrupting their rhythm, then cleaning up on the defensive boards. UPJ didn't shoot the ball horribly -- 25-of-50 from the field including 10-for-26 on threes (.385) -- but they were murdered on the boards, 40-23. Gannon grabbed 22 offensive rebounds while the Mountain Cats mustered only four offensive boards, their first coming just before halftime.

Gannon was leading by 6 with 3:30 to play when the defensive pressure made UPJ crack. Josh Wise drove to the basket where he was met by a leaping Damon Miraud. Wise missed badly, then he behaved even worse. He shouted at the underneath official so demonstratively that the ref had no choice but to whistle a technical foul. How you gonna deal with pressure? Gannon thrived while UPJ broke down.

Junior Zay Jackson has been excellent all year, but it's hard to know how a kid's going to respond to his first NCAA postseason game. I wrote this note about Jackson at the start of his streak of 11 consecutive first half points over a span of just 2:46: "quick, aggressive, focused." He ended the first half with 17 points, capped by a buzzer-beating three that was closer to 30 feet out than 20. After that shot he turned to the cheering Hammermill faithful, urging them to rise to their feet.

With Jackson killing UPJ in the first half, coach Bob Rukavina decided to spread his defense and discourage three-pointers. We've seen this happen all season long. Gannon races to a big lead, the opponent adjusts, Gannon struggles to score, and the lead evaporates. But Wednesday night, the Golden Knight big men answered the call. In the first half, starting forwards Damon Miraud and Evan Phoenix combined for just 4 points on 1-for-7 shooting. Over the final 20 minutes, they dominated play: 17 points and 4 rebounds for Miraud and 11 points and 10 boards for Phoenix. For you English majors like me, that's 28 points and 14 rebounds (I used a calculator) against one of the PSAC's best front lines in A.J. Leahey and Isaac Vescovi. Phoenix did most of his work on offensive putbacks and delicious dimes from point guard Jimmy Berger (11 assists) while Miraud whirled and twirled on slashing moves to the hoop.

The Gannon bench didn't play much -- three players combined for 21 minutes -- but they maintained the attack-attack-attack mentality Reilly wanted. The highlight of this group was Gerrell Williams' baseline drive-and-dunk three-point play midway through the first half (see photo above -- thank you, Joe Mattis!). Williams caught the ball on the left wing, immediately faked to his right, then exploded to the basket for a two-handed jam over and through a UPJ defender. The Hammermill Center crowd roared with approval and then, after the shock wore off, asked each other, "What just happened?"

The next step for Gannon this postseason is steeper than what we saw Wednesday. On Saturday they face PSAC East champ Kutztown, who boasts a glossy 25-2 record and #5 national ranking, on a neutral floor at Indiana (Pa.). The Golden Bears obliterated West Chester in their PSAC Quarterfinal, 114-93, shooting 60% from the field for the game and scoring 64 points in the second half alone. I'm eager to see how the Knights match up with a Division II heavyweight, and I'm curious to see how Kutztown handles Gannon's pressure.


  1. Looking at the PSAC stats ... this isn't looking too promising.

    UPJ scoring margin (+9.2) better than Gannon (+4.1)
    UPJ is second in FG percentage (49.8%); Gannon is eighth (46.1%)
    Gannon's used to be in the top in the country in FG percent defense. Gannon this year is only eighth in the PSAC; UPJ is 10th, so no decided advantage there.
    UPJ turnover margin (+2.3) Gannon (-1.4)
    UPJ leads conference in 3-point FG percent and third in 3-pointers made. Gannon is third from the bottom at defending the three.
    Gannon is top in PSAC rebound margin (+8.6) but UPJ is a respectable 6th.
    UPJ leads the league in assists and is third in steals. Gannon is #5 in assists and fourth from the bottom in steals.
    And UPJ is red-hot right now, especially on offense.

    Gannon is second in attendance and UPJ is last. Maybe our crowd will carry us to victory.

    To me, the key will be to get Leahy and / or Viscovi in foul trouble. They can't make any three's from the bench ... at least any that would count -- the way they shoot, I bet they could make a shot while sitting on the bench.

  2. Reserve seat available when is the last time you have seen that advertised?

  3. Feature in the Times-News highlights Gannon's six overtime win over Youngstown State in 1966: Subheadline reads: "Knights win in six overtimes, but will pass up tournament." If I recall correctly, didn't the coach at the time decide to not play in postseason because players violated a team rule despite the team finishing 20-3?

    Here is link to Times-News:

  4. No the coach did not make that decision it was made by an administrator of the school. The rules that were alleged to be broken were laws of Penna. Funny part you never heard anything about it again.

  5. Good win for Gannon. Hurst tried to help us host but IUP was just too much!

  6. Really stepped it up on defense tonight. UPJ looked uncomfortable the entire game. Gannon neutralized the turnover battle and blew UPJ away in rebounding. UPJ has a 1.64 assist to turnover ratio ... today they had 15 assists and 15 turnovers.

    Doesn't get any easier ... another team coming off a 110+ point performance awaits.

  7. Replies
    1. Sad indeed. I can give you a laundry list of reasons why the attendance sucks but they have been discussed at length on site many times before. No sense beating a dead horse. That 30 second highlight Jim gave us on a previous blog tells the whole story of what it used to be. Many of us were fortunate to be part of that era. Those days will never, never return. These players today have no idea what they are missing. Sad, sad story.

    2. Interesting: As technology has given us splashier websites, instantaneous information, answers at our fingertips, attendance has plummeted.

      I say a multitude of "little things", including a grassroots campaign for younger fans (As former employee Kevin Quinn used to do with free tickets at each week for MYAA games) would help. We have all discussed good ideas. If any of them get implemented is the question.

      I'd say that less than 15 students were at nights game.


      I ran into a longtime fan while enjoying a 40 minute wait to play golf last Friday at Venango.

      I asked him why he doesn't go the the games anymore. He replied : The quality of basketball $u%ks, the PSAC $u%s, on and on, ad infinitum.

      I politely disagreed, and jokingly mentioned that Glen Summors is not coming out of the locker room to warm up, and, neither is Mitchell Smith. Naturally, the brief conversation went quickly downhill after that. (Fortunately,I hit a good tee shot with his eyes searing into my back!!)

      Without officially checking, doesn't this "PSAC Final Four" have two of the top 6 teams in the country playing in it?

      My good as it gets....or, am I missing something?


      We played perhaps our most solid game of the year last night. It couldn't have come at a better time!

    3. #2, #5 & #13 in the country. If WJU & Shephard were to both lose in the quarterfinals today.. in the off chance that Gannon beats Kutztown - they may actually have a shot at making Region playoffs regardless of PSAC championship game outcome. Virginia Union & Virginia State have both already lost as has ESU. With Bowie winning the CIAA that is going to knock out one of the Virginia schools, if Gannon were to win (given the aforementioned possible outcomes) I would think ND and Gannon would both bump up and Shephard and ESU down. I'm not banking on anything or getting my hopes up... but the entire season I felt Gannon HAD to win the PSAC to have any chance... well, now, with favorable outcomes... if they make it to the PSAC Championship - they could make it in!

      Another note... LeMoyne may have lost their chance at hosting East as they fell in their conference semis.

    4. Nice research above!

      Seriously, for arguments sake with my person I got into my "discussion" with: THIS weekends "Tournament" is probably the strongest one Gannon basketball has ever been involved in. Those who believe the PSAC is weak couldn't be more wrong.

      This Gannon team is an outlier: Probably unlike any of the other three teams. I like the our chances on this short "business trip".

    5. i feel it's a "glass half empty/glass half full" thing. Some will say the PSAC is weak because IUP, Kutz and Ship pretty much ran away from everyone else this year whereas in the past you would have IUP, Gannon, Rock, Kutz, Strouds, WCU all beating up on the bottom feeders and slugging it out amongst themselves. However, some will say this could be the strongest it's been because ANY team could beat ANY team ANY game. With the exception of Cheyney & Edinboro... Cal and Clarion had the potential to get a W any given day. Seton Hill had some nice wins and gave some teams a real run for their money. West Chester was up there for a bit and then stumbled hard. Mercyhurst had a lot of season splits.

    6. That's a nasty thing to say about Edinboro. Cheney was 2-25. Edinboro was 8-18. I would not lump them together, especially after Edinboro, with just seven players, beat Gannon at Gannon. Meanwhile, Clarion, who you claim can win on any given day, was just 7-21 and finished last in the West. Here's how many teams Clarion beat with a winning record: one (15-12 Bloomsburg).

    7. Well there's really nothing nice to say about Boro haha :)

      It was wrong to group anyone with Cheyney. However, despite losing to them, if Gannon had to play one of those two in playoffs - I'd pick Edinboro rather than play Clarion.

    8. The PSAC was weak. The PSAC west, usually the stronger division, was particularly weak. The West was 23-31 against the east. There were no major doormats like Cheyney, but the fact that anybody could beat anybody (with the exception of IUP, who ran the table in the west) speaks to the weakness of the division.

      The West was particularly strong last season and super-strong in 2015 (credit to us for winning a great division). Put this year's Gannon team in the 2014-15 or 2015-16 west and there is no way it wins 15 league games. A 15-7 PSAC slate is a good result given last year, but perhaps it came at the expense of a schedule weaker than in past seasons.

      Some IUP fans are concerned with this weekend as they haven't played a very strong team since crossover play ended.

    9. This tournament is the "strongest" given the national rankings, for sure. This has to be the biggest underdog Gannon has ever been in a four-team tournament, given the national rankings. But everyone is 1-0 in the postseason and two wins will guarantee us an NCAA bid, and perhaps shock the region.

      We now pause for Golden89's national rankings rant.

      What's the point of Division II national rankings?? How on earth can anyone make the case that the top two teams in the Atlantic Region (Fairmont & IUP) are better than the top teams in Florida, California, Missouri, South Dakota, when they only play teams close by? National rankings in Division II are fun to talk about, but are completely meaningless. They matter in Division I because (1) teams play many games outside their region and (2) NCAA bids and seeds are extended nationally. It's not like the Atlantic Region is going to get 10 NCAA bids and the Great Lakes region gets 6 because of national rankings. Division II seeds and bids are extended regionally, meaning that national rankings are a meaningless beauty contest.

      We now return to our regularly scheduled comments.

    10. Also hard to take rankings seriously when the NABC and SID polls tend to differ greatly from one another.

  8. Congrats to:

    Matthew Dogan -- first team all PSAC West
    Zay Jackson -- second team all PSAC West
    Jimmy Berger -- the Jimmy Berger Freshman of the Year award.
    Maggie Mitchell -- second team all PSAC West

    On the women's side, PSAC West player of the year Mikki Glenn from Cal left Wednesday's game with an apparent knee injury and may be lost for the rest of the postseason.

    Also PSAC west defensive player of the year Alex Artise from Mercyhurst has been out for the past week or two and will likely miss the remainder of the season.

    1. slightly surprised that Miraud didn't make second team. I know he isn't the kind of guy that stands out every game, but obviously his rebounding was a HUGE key for this team as well as there were many times the team seemed "out of sync" offensively and defensively when he was on the bench. Most games seemed to flow through him regardless of his statline.

      MAJOR KUDOS to Dogan. I don't know if a kid has deserved it more than he does! It takes a major person with major heart to have to struggle through three years of off-and-on starting roles and extremely varied minutes in games to becoming one of the most dangerous offensive threats in the league!

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