The Gannon University men’s basketball team has one thing in common with its 2008-09 Elite Eight predecessor.
Both teams handedly defeated the competition on their way to winning the Gary Miller Classic.
The 2010 version conquered the 27th annual four-team tournament by defeating No. 14 Cedarville and Northern Michigan universities.
“It was good to finally start playing,” Gannon Coach John Reilly said. “It was a good feeling to beat two well-coached, tough teams.”
A roundtable of Knights was used in the 79-68 victory as 10 players etched their names in the scoring column, with nine of those players reaching double-digit minutes. Senior guard Danard Crouch led all Gannon scorers with 17 points.
Reilly said the team’s depth will be an asset throughout the beginning of the season heading into the Porreco Cup Dec. 29-30
“We want to be a strong team from player one through 12,” he said. “All the guys have been working hard and we can really wear down opponents.”
Although a number of players received minutes, Gannon was hard pressed to miss in the game’s first half as it shot 51 percent from the field and 55 percent from behind the arc.
Despite their offensive consistency, the Knights were unable to distance themselves from the Wildcats until redshirt freshman guard Kelvin Agee, who was named Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division freshman of the week, gave Gannon its biggest lead of the night – a 13 point edge – with two free throws before the half.
After a second-half rally by former Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference foe Northern Michigan, the Knights were able to ice the game as two three-pointers by Agee served as a catalyst for 9-2 Gannon run.
The Wildcats never came within seven points the rest of the way.
Junior guard Steve Piotrowicz, who has averaged 9.5 points and 5.5 through the first two games, said that the team’s instant chemistry has kept it from losing a step – no matter who’s on the court.
“All the guys gelled together from the beginning – I can’t really explain it,” he said. “We hang out together on and off the court and have a general respect for each other. And we all want to win.”
The Knights used their new found familiarity to overcome Cedarville 84-71 – and more specifically a four minute, 16 second scoring drought to start the season.
“Our chemistry is excellent,” Reilly said. “Everyone likes each other and its hard to beat teams that like each other.”
The offense eventually came around in the second half as Gannon shot 56 percent from the field and 46 percent from the three-point line.
Four Knights scored double digits in a contest that saw both Gannon and Cedarville go on runs of 10-plus points.
Agee led all Knights with 17 points while senior Travis Brannen chipped in six rebounds, four assists and three blocks in addition to his 15 points.
Sophomore Tanner Furno, who was named PSAC Western Division freshman of the year one season ago, scored eight points and ripped down six rebounds in 24 minutes of play.
Despite a slow start, the Knights rallied to score 84 points – quite the feat for a team that averaged 58 points per game and scored more than 80 points only three times last season.
“The offense is playing really well right now,” Piotrowicz said. “When you look down the lineup, we have a lot of guys who can score 20-plus points.”
The Knights will take their scoring prowess on the road when they travel to Urbana and Central State universities for games Saturday and Tuesday.
Although the Knights started the year off 2-0, Piotrowicz said there are still plenty of things for the team to work on.
“We need to play better defensively,” he said. “We need to do a better job rebounding because we’re a short team, but we’ll improve once we get the hang of it.”
Reilly echoed Piotrowicz’s sentiments, saying that the team must improve on its fundamentals across the spectrum
The upcoming road games, which are against opponents with a combined 36-19 record last season, will serve as an early litmus season assessment.
“It’s the ultimate test,” he said. “We know we can win at home, but you know you’re a good team if you can win on the road.”