Knights prepare for showdown with Rock
The BCS has nothing on the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division when it comes to complicated playoff scenarios.
But for the Gannon University men’s basketball team, it boils down to a simple premise: defend home court against Slippery Rock University Wednesday and finish in second place, taking a first-round bye and quarterfinal home game that comes with it. Lose, and the Knights will host California University of Pennsylvania Saturday.
It comes down to winning, something senior guard Oscar Macias was quick to point out.
“This is the first game of the postseason for us,” said Macias, who led Gannon with 17 points in its 82-69 win over Lock Haven University Saturday. “We want to win the conference championship and ultimately the national championship and that starts now.”
At 21-6 and 15-6 in the conference, Gannon dropped out of the national rankings Tuesday and is currently eighth in the Atlantic Regional Rankings, though a new list will be released Wednesday. The top eight teams in the season’s final rankings reach the NCAA tournament.
The Knights have already clinched an appearance in the PSAC postseason tournament for the first time since 2008-09, andare trying to position themselves with conference’s elite, but with just a game left for each team, a clear hierarchy of teams has still not been determined.
For instance, on Saturday Slippery Rock beat Indiana University of Pennsylvania at home to tie for first place while Mercyhurst, coming off a win over Gannon, lost to Cal, which the Knights have beaten twice already this season.
“It’s wide open, and (players) know it’s wide open,” Gannon coach John Reilly said.
Gannon had to rebound for a split last week on Saturday after the Knights laid an egg on offense in their loss to rival Mercyhurst Wednesday. Gannon’s 36 points were the fewest in a game since at least the 1970s and looked uglier at times in the second half when Gannon scored13 points and committed 17 turnovers.
Reilly said the Knights neglected ball security and estimated that “95 percent of the turnovers were unforced.”
“Are we as terrible as we played? Of course not, we have a really good team,” he said. “When we aren’t turning it over, we’ve been really solid. When we do turn it over, you better buckle up.”
The Knights quickly recovered, however, on Saturday when they shot 61 percent from the field to score their most points in more than a month.
“We were never really worried about what our offense was able to do,” Macias, one of six seniors to be honored Wednesday, said. “Saturday’s game was more of a confidence-booster.”
Saturday’s game could’ve also been the charm for C.J. Oldham, who was playing his third game at point guard since taking over starting duties from Jabs Newby.
“We just really like him there,” Reilly said of the 6-foot-8-inch Oldham. “He gives us a different look. Defensively, it helps us with rebounding. Nothing against Jabs; it’s just a move we feel we needed to make at the time.”
Defense and rebounding will be at premium at the Hammermill Center Wednesday when Slippery Rock and Gannon, the PSAC’s best and second-best rebounding teams, play for the second time after the Rock beat the Knights 69-56 Jan. 30
“We got down early and their physicality got to us,” Reilly said.
Winners of their last four, Slippery Rock was curiously left out of last week’s Atlantic Region rankings, but this week’s version could be another story after the Rock’s win over IUP, which is fifth in the Region rankings.
“We all know it’s a big game,” Macias said. “We had a meeting where we basically said, ‘This is it. We’re going to give it our all, not make excuses and if we fall short we’re not going to say what if.’”
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