Gannon looks to keep winning following historic week
Gannon University’s team bus arrived at campus from an historic road trip at 10:30 Saturday night — just enough time for coach John Reilly to watch the second half of Notre Dame’s win over Louisville.
And the five overtimes that ensued, before leaving the basketball office at almost 1 a.m.
He just couldn’t get enough new history being made.
Last week, the No. 17 Knights completed one of the best two-game road trips in school history, handing then seventh-ranked Indiana University of Pennsylvania its first home loss of the season before winning at California University of Pennsylvania for the first time since 1958.
Winners of seven of their last eight, the Knights improved to 19-4 overall and 13-4 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Western Division —one game behind IUP.
Since then, IUP had won 21 straight at home and had not lost to Gannon since February 2009.
“They’re the best team in our league for the last four years,” Reilly said. “I thought our focus was better (this time).”
After IUP had beaten Gannon in its seven previous tries, the Knights needed little extra incentive to play their best Wednesday.
But after their loss to the Crimson Hawks 72-65 in December, they got it anyway in the next day’s issue of the Erie Times-News.
In it, Indiana guard Scooter Renkin called the game his “coming-out party” after pouring in a career-high 25 points.
It didn’t sit well with the Knights.
“We couldn’t wait to play that game,” senior guard Oscar Macias said. “We feel that they’re one team that doesn’t respect us.”
Macias said assistant coach Chris Viscuso pinned the article to a bulletin board during practice, further motivating Gannon to end IUP’s streak.
“Our practices were extremely intense leading up to the game,” Macias said.
Gannon had to come back in the second half after blowing a six-point halftime lead and held on for a 57-55 win to become just the second visiting team to walk out of IUP’s Kovalchick Convention Center since its opening last season.
The Knights faced a similar scenario in their 56-53 win over Cal when they overcame a sluggish start.
Macias said the two back-to-back games made for a challenge.
“That was a little hard; after going from the No. 7 team in IUP to Cal, who’s mediocre in the PSAC, it was a little hard getting up for that game,” Macias said. “We knew we hadn’t won there in a long time and as seniors, this might be our last time playing here.”
In their wins last week, the Knights combined to make only 17-of-36 from the foul line, particularly head-scratching considering Gannon has converted at a 73 percent clip and had a streak of 32 straight hits from the line in late January.
“I think it’s something that comes and goes and a lot of it is really the timing of it,” Reilly said. “When you have one that you need to make down the stretch, you’ve got to make it.”
Both games last week featured playoff-like physicality and intensity, which Reilly said he expects of all Knights games from here on out.
Wednesday night at the Hammermill Center will showcase a potential playoff match up when the Knights host rival Edinboro University.
On Jan. 16, Gannon beat Edinboro 86-63, the same day Scots starters Bryan Theriot and Jay Fletcher were injured. Both are now back in the lineup for an Edinboro team that has won three of its last four games and qualified for the PSAC playoffs for the first time in four years by beating Lock Haven Saturday.
“It was very misleading because they lost two key guys in that game and they’re both back,” Reilly said. “We have to make sure we stay hungry and guard Edinboro because they have guys that can make shots.”
Gannon will have a chance to sweep the second straight season, although Macias said this year’s team is different.
“We’ve really bought into the team and we’re listening to the coaches, whereas last year, we were more fighting the coaches,” he said. “Last year wasn’t a ‘we’ team; it was more of a ‘me’ team.”
Macias said the Knights are striving to be the same team every day, despite the fact that they earned their first spot in the Top 25 rankings since the 2008-09 season.
“Coach told us we have to remain the attackers, we can’t wait to be attacked,” Macias said. “The rankings do feel really good though. I’m glad to be 17th.”
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