The Gannon University men’s basketball team stretched its winning streak to eight games last week before seeing the streak snapped by sixth-ranked Indiana University of Pennsylvania Saturday at the Hammermill Center, 72-62.
The loss, coupled with Wednesday’s 57-54 win over Slippery Rock, left the Knights with an overall mark of 13-6 and an 11-4 record in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference action going into Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. matchup against the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown at the Hammermill Center.
Gannon had its hands full with IUP, which sits in first place in the PSAC West with a 14-1 record and is 19-2 overall. The win over Gannon gave the Crimson Hawks a PSAC Tournament berth and despite losing, the Knights are still in second place in the PSAC West conference.
All five starters scored in the double digits for Gannon, which trailed by 17 at halftime at 40-23. IUP shot 50 percent from the floor for the game and 44 percent from the three-point line and used a 15-0 first-half run to take command.
The Crimson Hawks’ defense held Gannon scoreless for more than 6 minutes at one point.
Matthew Dogan led the offensive charge for Gannon as he had 16 points and five rebounds, making it his 16th game in a row with double-digit points.
Freshman guard Jimmy Berger had 10 points, four assists and three steals. Evan Phoenix, Zay Jackson and Damon Miraud each contributed 11 points.
Berger admitted that the team knew it was going to be a tough game but the Knights were up for the challenge.
“It did not go the way we wanted it to go and what went wrong was how IUP played their defense,” Berger said. “They switched literally everything, which got us a bit rattled and we just could not get over that 10 – 12-point hump in the second half.”
The Knights’ 57-54 win over Slippery Rock on Wednesday represented the team’s longest win streak since winning eight straight between Feb. 11 and March 8, 2015.
The victory did not come easy for the Knights. Trailing 49-47, Gannon used a 7-0 run to take the lead for good.
Dogan sank a pair of free throws with 4 minutes, 1 second to play to tie the score for the eighth time, and Jackson followed Dogan up with another free throw, giving the Knights a lead they wouldn’t lose. Phoenix, the sophomore standout, added a couple layups for comfort putting the score at 54-49.
With victory in sight, Jackson hit two free throws with 11 seconds left but Slippery Rock added three points to cut Gannon’s lead to 56-52. At that point, The Rock’s Christal Malalu was fouled and hit both free throws to close the gap to 56-54.
However, with .7 seconds left on the clock Miraud was fouled as the buzzer sounded and was forced to shoot two. Miraud made one of two free throws to seal the Knights’ victory at 57-54.
The contest was tight throughout the early going. Slippery Rock assumed its biggest lead of the half at 18-12, but Jackson broke the mold as the Knights went on a 9-2 run to regain the lead at 21-20.
But Slippery Rock responded and took the lead right back. The visitors held onto it long enough to own the first half with a 28-24 advantage.
The Rock assumed its biggest lead of the evening at 32-24 as it kissed two off the glass at the start of the second half.
With a fire within, the Knights responded with a 13-4 run to forge a 37-36 lead. After that, the combatants exchanged the lead five more times within 10 minutes and 40 seconds.
Following Wednesday’s home game with Pitt-Johnstown, Gannon will hit the road as the Knights travel to meet Seton Hill at 3 p.m. Saturday and then visit California University of Pennsylvania at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 8.