The Gannon University men’s basketball team wasn’t consulted when the scheduling powers moved Saturday’s game up from the end of the season with Indiana University of Pennsylvania on the heels of a tough loss to East Stroudsburg University. But if the Knights were, they could have stocked up on Icy Hot.
Fresh off a physical 52-46 loss to last year’s Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference champion, the Knights must quickly get ready for Saturday’s showdown with the nation’s 15th-ranked team. Both were slated to win their respective divisions in the PSAC preseason poll.
“East Stroudsburg is a tough, physical, strong team that likes to press the whole game,” coach John Reilly said. “We’re expecting a good, tough, physical game from IUP, like most of the teams we play.”
In addition to losing the game Sunday, the Knights also learned they’d lose the services of starting point guard Adam Blazek, who said he fractured a bone in his right hand Sunday. Blazek, who is left-handed, finished the game.
Blazek, last season’s PSAC Freshman of the Year, ranks second on the team, averaging 12.7 points per game. He is expected to miss about a month.
“It just means everybody else will play their best,” senior forward Darrell Blanton said. “We don’t feel any added pressure.”
Despite falling to East Stroudsburg and Blazek’s injury, the weekend wasn’t a total loss for the Knights, who defeated Kutztown University 67-56 Saturday at the Hammermill Center.
Gannon forced 18 turnovers and outrebounded the Bears 38-27. Blanton scored 18 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
Kutztown won the PSAC Eastern Division a season ago, but is just 1-5 to start this season.
Gannon (5-1 overall, 1-1 PSAC) dropped its first game Sunday when it went scoreless for the final six minutes, and the Warriors scored the game’s final nine points.
The Knights jumped out to a 9-2 lead before East Stroudsburg responded, taking a 26-25 lead at halftime.
In all, the Warriors and Knights exchanged leads four times in the second half. At the 6:12 mark, Gannon led 46-43, but the Warriors converted a 3-point play and eventually distanced themselves from the Knights, who missed seven shots and committed four turnovers during that stretch.
Gannon committed 21 turnovers Sunday, the third time the Knights had 20 turnovers in a game this season.
“We were too quick with our possessions; it’s going to take time,” Reilly said. “Everyone is going to work hard to get these ones fixed because turnovers are one of the most important stats.”
“A big part of our defense is causing turnovers,” Reilly said.
Gannon currently ranks first in the PSAC in scoring defense, allowing an average of just 55.2 points per game.
The Knights, who are in the middle of a nine-game home stand, are off to their best start since the 2008-09 Elite Eight team started 9-0, before also suffering its first loss to East Stroudsburg.
“Getting off to a good start does a lot for our confidence,” said Blanton, who led Gannon again Sunday with 19 points, including a thunderous alley-oop dunk on a pass from Robert Wilson. “It makes you feel good that you can win games by double-digits.”
After hosting IUP Saturday, Gannon will return to action Friday, Dec. 14, when it hosts the Porreco Cup, which began in 1967 as the Gem City Bowl. Last season, Gannon lost in the finals to Seton Hill University in double-overtime on a half-court shot that made ESPN’s SportsCenter’s Top 10.
“We have to get past IUP before we start worrying about the Porreco cup,” Blanton said.