The Gannon University men’s basketball team fell in its 25th trip to the NCAA Tournament, losing 78-69 to East Stroudsburg Saturday in the opening round of Atlantic Regional tournament play in Ettrick, Va.
The loss to East Stroudsburg came less than a week after the two teams met in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Tournament championship game, a game that the Warriors won by a 89-67 count.
East Stroudsburg jumped to an early lead in Saturday’s regional opener and led by as many as nine points in the first half, but Gannon — which finished the season 22-10 — stayed within striking distance.
The Knights trailed 30-23 with 3 minutes, 37 seconds remaining in the opening half before going on an 11-4 run that was capped by freshman Cyril Ogbuagu’s free throw with 28 seconds to play.
That tied the score at 34-34, but East Stroudsburg took back the lead before the half after making a quick jumper and a three-pointer to put the game at 39-34.
Coach John Reilly said that the end of the first half was one turning point in the game as the Knights had a chance to take control, but the Warriors took it instead.
“We were familiar with them, but they play unlike most other teams, and they also pressed the whole time,” Reilly said.
Reilly also mentioned a turnover by Gannon early in the second half that gave way to an East Stroudsburg dunk to extend the Warriors’ lead to 45-35. East Stroudsburg widened the gap to 52-37 with a little over 16 minutes to play in the game.
Reilly’s team battled back, though, and the Knights were able to cut the deficit several times, pulling to within 71-65 with 1:14 remaining. But Gannon could get no closer.
Despite the loss, the Knights shone when on the boards, totaling 47 rebounds to the Warriors’ 26.
Senior Zay Jackson, who led the team with 16 points, said despite the outcome the Knights still had a solid showing.
“The guys played hard and gave all they had, like they had something to prove,” Jackson said. “It was a great season — I improved personally and we improved as a group. It was a great group of guys this year and I think we played to our maximum potential.”
Evan Phoenix and Frank Webb Jr. each contributed 12 points while Damon Miraud had 11 points and 12 rebounds for Gannon.
East Stroudsburg went on to beat follow PSAC foes West Chester and Shippensburg to advance to the Division II Elite Eight, which starts Tuesday in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Gannon ended the season 22-10, which is the first time with that many wins since they won the PSAC in 2015.
“They fought hard in the last game and they had a really good season, played a tough schedule and finished second in the PSAC,” Reilly said.