Gannon looks to rout Rock

The Gannon University men’s basketball team split a pair of games last week, as it continues to weather the injury bug and sustain through nail-biting finishes.

In their crosstown rivalry against Mercyhurst College Wednesday, the Knights had to endure another last-second defeat when the Lakers sank a pair of free throws in the final minute to steal a 62-61 win.

The Knights managed to soften the sting a bit, however, when they returned home to defeat Clarion University Saturday, 83-61.

The loss to Mercyhurst gave the Knights three straight losses and put them within one game of .500, before getting back into the winning column Saturday.

“It was a busy week,” coach John T. Reilly said. “The Mercyhurst game, we came out in the second half, I thought we played phenomenal defense. It got us with the chance to win the game, and then Clarion is as good as any team we played all year.”

The Knights currently sit at 9-7 overall and 7-5 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference as they enter play Wednesday night. The Knights will look to parlay their newfound momentum from their win over the Golden Eagles when they welcome Slippery Rock University to the Hammermill Center 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.

However, the first step for the Knights was putting three straight demoralizing defeats behind them. Following the loss to Mercyhurst, Reilly said he was confident in his team’s ability to move forward.

“There’s always a concern, but when you’re dealing with young people, young people are resilient, and we’re now 9-7 and we’ve had a legitimate chance to win every game,” he said. “The other side of that is that we know we can beat anybody.”

Against Mercyhurst, the Lakers’ Steven Coleman pair of free throws with 20 seconds remaining gave his team a thrilling victory, as the Knights were unable to respond with a desperation shot.

The Knights took a 61-60 lead and possession of the ball when junior forward Darrell Blanton followed a free throw and snagged a defensive rebound on the other end of the floor.

However, an errant pass intercepted by the Lakers’ Bill Weaver led to a foul and the ultimately fatal free throws.

The turnover was indicative of Gannon’s inability to handle the ball throughout the game, which led to 20 turnovers compared to just eight assists.

Gannon vastly improved in this area Saturday, as the Knights committed just 12 turnovers while dishing out 19 assists. Also in the Knights’ favor was the spark provided by junior forward T.J. Wilson, who posted a team-high 20 points upon being inserted into the starting lineup.

Wilson said little has changed in his approach to the game.

“My role in the starting lineup is the same that it’s been all season: to bring energy, play hard and do whatever I can do to help the team,” he said. “The only difference now is that I’m doing it from the start of the game and for a longer period of time.”

On Saturday, each cog of the starting lineup logged longer minutes, as Reilly used the five members of the starting lineup for the entire second half.

Reilly said the Knights didn’t plan to ride the five, but that he liked the “flow” his team displayed. However, Reilly said he has no plans to employ such a strategy in the future for the Knights, whose bench has been diminished due to injuries to several key players.

The Knights hope to get sophomore forward Stephen Battle, who is out with a lower leg-knee injury, back to their lineup soon to take some of the pressure off the starters.

“It will be great when we get Steph back on the court, but we’re playing at a high level and playing at this level, you kind of learn to play through the bumps and bruises,” Wilson said.

Gannon remains only one game out of the PSAC postseason field. Clarion and Slippery Rock are now tied for third place and the final home quarterfinal game with 8-3 records. Edinboro and California universities of Pennsylvania join Gannon with 7-5 marks.

“It’s late in the year now when practices are getting shorter, but their focus has to get sharper,” Reilly said.

JOE CUNEO

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