Women earn NCAA tournament bid

After tripping up in the first round of conference playoffs, the Gannon University women’s basketball team will look to hit its stride in the first round of NCAA tournament play Friday against Johnson C. Smith University.

Gannon, which is currently ranked No. 22 in the USA Today ESPN Top 25 Coaches Poll, lost its first round game in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference playoffs to Indiana University of Pennsylvania in overtime.

Coach Cleve Wright said that although the outcome was not what the team had hoped for, the game could have gone either way.

“I felt like the ball bounced their way several times but our kids just kept fighting,” he said. “They came out in overtime and hit a huge shot.”

The stat sheets for the Knights and the Crimson Hawks were nearly identical – posting similar numbers in field goal percentage, rebounds and assists. The only significant edge IUP held over Gannon was in 3-point shooting, going 6-of-19 from behind the arc while Gannon only netted two.

“Certainly there were things we could have done better,” Wright said. “But it was a great lesson in playing every possession.”

Sophomore forward Jen Papich, who led all scorers with 25, said that the loss was disappointing, but that the NCAA berth will be the second chance the team has worked all season for.

“In playoffs, every day could be our last,” she said. “Second chances don’t always come around, and we’re embracing this one with everything we have.”

Gannon (21-6) will enter the tournament as the sixth seed and will face Johnson C. Smith out of Charlotte, N.C. Johnson C. Smith is seeded third with a 22-6 overall record.

Wright said that though the players have not seen this opponent before, they have watched film and will be ready to go for Friday’s 12 p.m. matchup at Edinboro University, the regional tournament host.

“They’re a tough matchup for us, but we’re going to be a tough matchup for them,” he said. “We have two different styles of basketball. They’re an up-tempo team, we tend to be more balanced.”

Wright said that while Johnson C. Smith runs with a high tempo, he thinks the Knights will be able to counter them with their size inside and their talented guards.

Papich said that she expects that the Golden Bulls will put up a fight, but they will be ready for it.

“We as players know that they’re an extremely athletic team who plays hard,” she said. “It really comes down to how well we can play our game. Being such a young team, sometimes we play to the tempo of our opponent.”

Papich added that she thinks the team has grown a lot over the course of the season, and that when every player is playing her game, they can compete with the best teams in the nation.

This game represents the first trip to the NCAA tournament for nearly all of the Knights, including Papich.

“When you have a team where the majority of the players have not been to the NCAA tournament, it’s exciting for all of us,” Wright said. “I think they’re happy they’re one of the 64 teams who still get to play. The mentality I want them to have is, ‘Are you satisfied? How far do you want to take this?’”

Wright said that although there is an expectation for the team to make it deep into the postseason every year, it is still something that comes with a lot of work and should not be taken for granted.

“Every time you make it,” he said, “you want to make the most of it.”

Papich said that playing in a familiar location, Edinboro, will give the Knights more of a home court advantage than the Golden Bulls will have.

“It’ll help us prepare mentally for the game,” she said. “If we could have a strong fan base come out to support us, we will be beyond grateful. That’s one of the great things about the Erie and Gannon communities – the fan base is so strong.”

She also said that while it may not have a direct effect on the game, it is always reassuring to know there are people cheering them on and showing support.

The Athletic Department has secured a fan bus for the game, which will board at 10:45 a.m. in front of Zurn on Friday and will depart at 11 a.m. for the noon contest. It will return at approximately 3 p.m. There will be free pizza and beverages, and the tickets for the games will be paid for. There will be room for 50, so anyone wishing to claim a seat should email [email protected] to sign up. Seats will be given on a first come, first serve basis.



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