Gannon University’s men’s basketball team ended its season with a 91-85 overtime loss to fifth-ranked Kutztown in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Tournament semifinals Saturday at Indiana University of Pennsylvania’s Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex.
The Knights appeared to be on their way to Sunday’s tournament championship game, as they built a 76-67 lead after sophomore Evan Phoenix converted two free throws with 1 minute, 58 seconds to play in regulation.
But the Golden Bears, who finished atop the PSAC East during the regular season, roared back with a 10-1 blitz in the final two minutes to force overtime.
Gannon entered the extra session unbeaten in five regular-season overtime games, but that streak came to an end in the postseason.
Kutztown never trailed during the OT as the two teams exchanged the first eight points and were tied for the sixth time at 81-81.
The Golden Bears fashioned a 6-0 run to seal the victory.
Zay Jackson paced Gannon with 28 points, connecting on seven of 11 three-point attempts, while Matthew Dogan contributed 18 points and Phoenix had 16 points to go with 10 rebounds.
Freshman point guard Jimmy Berger contributed 11 assists, nine points and five rebounds and did not turn the ball over in 42 minutes of play.
Gannon, which finished the season 18-10, was playing in the PSAC Final Four for the third time in the last four years. It marked the first time the Knights had lost to Kutztown in postseason play.
Kutztown fell 73-63 to Shippensburg in Sunday’s tournament title game.
In the opening 10 minutes of the Gannon-Kutztown game, neither team was able to create a lead of more than three points. That changed as Gannon scored seven consecutive points after trailing 14-12.
After junior Gerrell Williams made a three-pointer, Dogan kissed one off the glass before Williams followed up with a lay-in.
With 9:13 left in the first half, the Knights led 19-14. Gannon extended its lead to 27-21 after a Jackson triple. Kutztown answered the three-pointer with eight consecutive points to assume a 29-27 lead with 4:11 left in the half.
Gannon responded with a right hook to Kutztown’s jaw as the Knights scored eight points of their own. Jackson hit back-to-back threes, and Phoenix followed Jackson with a couple of jumpers to put the Knights ahead 35-29 with under a minute left.
Kutztown softened the blow with five more points, with a triple from Anthony Lee at the buzzer to end the half at 35-34 in favor of Gannon.
Gannon started the second half with eight of the first 10 points to extend the lead to 43-36. Its lead continued to inflate to 51-41 after Jackson’s third triple of the day.
At the 12:44 mark Kutztown cut the lead to 55-53 after going on an 8-0 run. Minutes later the Golden Bears passed the Knights after a three and free throw to move ahead 59-58.
After snapping a 61-61 tie with a layup from Phoenix, a drive from Dogan and a triple from Berger, Gannon landed on a 76-67 lead with 1:58 left in the game.
The win was so close that the Knights could taste it as the clock wound down; however, the tide turned drastically. Kutztown went on an offensive blitz, making shots left and right. In the last 2:25 the Golden Bears made five consecutive shots, including two threes.
Gannon then missed two free throws and gave up a couple of turnovers as Lee tied it at 77-77 with a layup with 24 seconds left to play, sending the game into OT.
Prior to the season-ending loss to Kutztown, the Knights took on Pitt-Johnstown in the PSAC quarterfinals and beat the Mountain Cats in the Hammermill Center, 77-67.
Jackson led Gannon with 22 points while Damon Miraud added 21 points and 10 rebounds and Phoenix finished with 11 points and 13 rebounds. Berger contributed 11 assists and seven points.
Overall, Coach John Reilly said he is proud of his team and its ability to outplay the Bears for 39 minutes.
“The guys did all but win,” Reilly said, “We probably should have beaten them, but we weren’t able to finish.”
That would be Gannon’s first OT loss of the season after playing in six OT games.
Before that matchup Gannon took on Mercyhurst in its last regular season game and won 82-76.
That was a big win for the Knights as it was the second Porreco Pride of Erie Game of the season, it was Senior Day and lastly, Mercyhurst is a huge rival.
Dogan’s 25 points and 10 rebounds paced the Knights. Jackson added 16 points, Williams 12 and Phoenix 10.
Dogan said the last game was a tough loss, but he had a memorable senior year, enjoyed playing with every single one of his teammates and made some memories that will last a lifetime.
“It’s a strange feeling knowing I’m done with basketball now,” Dogan said. “It is how I’ve been identified and how I have identified myself for so long.”
He said the team next year has a lot of potential for success with some added players and leadership from the returners to get them on board with the team’s culture.
“They will have a ton of experience returning and I’m looking forward to following them and rooting them on next season,” Dogan said.
Hopefully with his newfound free time he will be able to watch the Knights hoop their way to victory.