Gannon splits pair of barn-burners on road

The Gannon University men’s basketball team might want to think about joining a union.

The overtime hours are beginning to add up for the Knights, who split another pair of extra-session games during the weekend to Millersville and West Chester universities.

The Knights stole a come-from-behind win in a 98-97 thriller at Millersville Saturday, before going cold in the waning minutes in an 83-79 loss Sunday.

The close games are nothing new for the Knights, who in four games against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference East opponents, three have been decided by one-point.

“It’s been pretty much par for the course so far this season,” coach John T. Reilly said. “To be honest, we probably should’ve lost the game we won and won the game we lost.”

Gannon continues to break even for the season, as it sports a 3-3 overall record and 2-2 mark in the PSAC. The Knights looked to feed off Saturday’s win, when they erased a 14-point deficit against the Marauders Saturday afternoon.

Millersville, which dropped to 2-5, 0-3 led for the majority of the game and took an 11-point lead into the half.

Out of the locker room, Gannon responded, as it methodically chipped away at Millersville’s lead. The Knights clawed to within three points on four different occasions, only to be denied each time.

Just as it appeared the Mauraders had clinched the game with a pair of free throws that extended their lead to 81-75 with 30 seconds remaining, Gannon junior Oscar Macias drained a 3-pointer.

Macias came up big once again when he knocked down a pair of free throws to cut the lead to two with 19 seconds left.

“We’re starting to get it together,” Macias said. “We’re not there completely, but everyone is really focused so we can start winning consistently

A Millersville turnover led to senior Shameel Carty’s only points of the game when he followed his own layup with 10 seconds left on the ensuing possession.

Gannon continued its surge into overtime, taking a 6-point lead with two minutes left, before the Marauders whittled it down to comprise the final margin.

The Knights’ 98 points Saturday were the most a Gannon team has tallied since February 1997.

“We’re scoring a lot, which is great, but we also have to get better on defense to be a more total team,” Reilly said.

Macias and sophomore forward Stephen Battle fueled the Knights’ second-half surge, each pouring in 15 points in the second half and overtime. Junior forward Darrell Blanton was a force throughout, registering 21 points and grabbing 10 rebounds.

Blanton said there remains room for improvement.

“We gave them more points than we wanted to,” he said. “We still outrebounded them and we won at the end of the day, but there are definitely some things we need to work on to get better.”

Gannon saw the script flipped the following day when it squandered a seven-point lead with four minutes remaining. The Golden Rams ripped off seven consecutive points and eventually took a two-point lead before the Knights battled back with a pair of Blanton free throws to force overtime.

West Chester, which improved to 5-3, 2-2, iced the game in the final minute when John Breeden drained a shot from behind the arc with 15 seconds left.

Blanton once again paced the Knights on offense and on the boards, posting 25 points and 11 rebounds. He was named PSAC Player of the Week Monday after the back-to-back double doubles.

The 6-foot-4 forward has provided a low-post force for the Knights, as he leads the team with 19.5 points and 9.2 points per game in his first season since redshirting after transferring from Kennedy King (Ill.) Community College.

“It’s more motivating for me because I knew I could play Division II basketball, and if I improve my game, it’ll improve the team, and I think every player on the team feels the same way,” Blanton said.

The Knights will return home for the first time since the Gary Miller Classic Friday, when they host Cheyney University (2-5, 1-3) before playing Shippensburg University (4-5, 2-2) at the Hammermill Center Saturday.

Gannon will then resume play when it hosts the annual Porreco Cup, starting Dec. 29.

Due to a new NCAA rule, the Knights will not be able to practice the week of Christmas, starting on Dec. 19. Reilly said Gannon will continue practices on Dec. 27, when he hopes the Knights will start their run.

“The break is really when we start making our move,” he said. “When we’re on break, that frees their mind, they’re off the court they can relax and hang out together, and really just worry about basketball.”

JOE CUNEO

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