Coming off a close loss to Seton Hill, the Gannon University men’s basketball team rallied to string together a couple of wins last week.
Up first, the Knights took on the Vulcans of California University of Pennsylvania and beat them, 74-67, in their home nest on Feb. 8. The winning continued Saturday at Clarion, where the visiting Knights beat the Golden Eagles, 80-60.
The twin wins improved Gannon’s overall record to 16-7 and left the Knights 14-5 in Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference action going into Wednesday’s 7:30 p.m. home matchup with Edinboro at the Hammermill Center.
In the win over CalU, Gannon came out of the gate ready to shoot, taking an early 9-7 lead, which was overturned as the Vulcans bounced back with a 15-2 run in 5 minutes and 41 seconds. CalU assumed a 22-11 lead 10 minutes into the half.
With the Vulcans leading 35-28, Gannon fought back with a layup by sophomore Evan Phoenix and two consecutive jumpers from senior Matthew Dogan, who finished with 23 points to lead the Knights.
Trailing 36-35, California sank a free throw to tie the score as the halftime buzzer rang.
Again, the Knights came out firing at the start of the second half with 11 consecutive points, which began and ended with junior Zay Jackson. Jackson, who finished with 16 points and did not miss a minute of play, began the rally with a jumper and capped it with a three-pointer.
As all things seemed to go in Gannon’s favor at the start of the half, it was the opposite for the Vulcans. They went 0-of-2 from the field, missed a couple of free throws and handed the Knights three turnovers. After 3:14 had passed CalU was able to put up some points.
From then on the Vulcans fought hard and got the score to 53-48 10 minutes through the half but Gannon responded with another run, scoring seven straight points to widen its lead.
Phoenix, who also finished with 16 points on the way to being named PSAC player of the week, came up with back-to-back jumpers and Jackson hit another three to put the score at 60-48.
CalU continued to plow through the deficit and managed to get it within five at 60-55 with 6:03 left to play and again the Vulcans cut it to 63-61 with 3:53 left.
Freshman Jimmy Berger answered for the Knights with a big three-pointer to lower Gannon’s blood pressure and increase the lead to 68-63.
The icing on the cake was four free throws made by the Knights and a layup by Dogan with one second left to finalize the victory.
Dogan, who connected on 9-of-17 field-goal attempts and also played all 40 minutes, was just moved to the national ballot for Academic All-America consideration after landing a spot on the Academic All-District Men’s Basketball first team.
He said he is honored to receive the nomination because it encompasses what college basketball is all about — grades and athletic performance.
In terms of the team’s play Dogan said he thinks the loss to Seton Hill brought the team back to reality and that the Knights have to be focused and play their best each game because each team is good in the PSAC.
“The two games against Cal and Clarion showed that we were all on the same page as a team and we really played connected,” Dogan said.
“We need to continue to stay sharp and focused as we head down the home stretch.”
On Saturday the Knights headed to Clarion to take on the Golden Eagles and left with a 20-point win. Phoenix led the charge with a career-high 25 points and coupled it with 12 rebounds.
The game saw eight lead changes and neither team led by more than three for the first 12 minutes.
As the scoreboard showed 18-16 in favor of Clarion, Gannon strung together seven consecutive points to take a 23-18 lead. Dogan and junior Damon Miraud banked in a layup each before Berger sank a three.
The Knights ended the half with a 13-2 run in the final 5:33. Phoenix had seven of the points from five free throws and a tip-in at the buzzer to make it 40-24 in favor of Gannon.
Solid defense caused the Eagles to turn the ball over six times and limited them to four missed shots.
Two free throws by Berger and a Dogan layup stretched the lead to 44-24, but Clarion followed with a 7-0 run to shave the deficit to 46-33 with 15:49 on the clock.
Jackson fired back for Gannon with two threes in a row, which got the string of 11 consecutive points burning for the Knights. Phoenix came around with a classic three-point play right before a layup from Dogan to further Gannon’s agenda to 57-33.
Dogan came up again offensively as he hit a three to extend the Knights’ lead to 62-35 at the 11:01 mark.
After that Clarion wasn’t able to get within 19 points of Gannon.
Coach John Reilly said both CalU and Clarion were good enougn to beat the Knights.
After losing to Seton Hill the Knights had to tighten up a few things to perfect their play.
“For us we stayed more focused and played stronger defense than we did against Seton Hill,” Reilly said.
Dogan added 14 points and Miraud contributed 11 for Gannon.
Following Wednesday’s meeting with Edinboro, the Knights will travel to Slippery Rock to take on The Rock in a 3 p.m. start.
Gannon has three more games before playoffs start but the Knights will have a first-round bye since they sit second in the conference.