Turning the page on the calendar to February doesn’t just signify the nearness of Valentine’s Day.
It also means pivotal games and the end of the regular season as well as conference and NCAA tournament games are coming into sight.
Sorry if your roses are a little late this year, ladies.
“It’s the best time of year,” Gannon University men’s basketball coach John Reilly said. “Usually teams are playing their best right now.”
So far this season, there hasn’t been much for Reilly and the Knights not to love.
The Knights, winners of their last four, are 16-3 and will travel to play Slippery Rock University for sole possession of second place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference’s Western Division Wednesday. Indiana University of Pennsylvania is atop the West.
Reilly stressed the importance of the game.
“It is the biggest game and not because of the reasons most people would think,” Reilly said. “It’s because it’s the next game we gotta play.”
Since losing to West Chester University on Jan. 12, Gannon has won its last four games by an average of more than 14 points per game, right at its season average that leads the PSAC.
This included the Wednesday’s 56-42 win in the 65th meeting against city rival Mercyhurst, something the Knights failed to do in two tries last season.
Guard Adam Blazek, who scored 11 points against the Lakers, said Gannon was looking forward to the Mercyhurst game.
“Everything is magnified when you play against a rival,” he said. “Our practices and intensity were at a high level. The result just showed how we play when we are together and defend hard.”
Gannon outrebounded the Lakers by a staggering margin of 36-11 and excelled against Mercyhurst’s oft-problematic defensive scheme.
“In the Mercyhurst game, they’re not playing a traditional zone,” Reilly said, “They’re playing a match-up, which you have to attack differently than a 2-3 zone. At times, we got stagnant. But ultimately we moved the ball and people like we had to.”
The Knights followed it up with a workman-like 65-53 win over Clarion University Saturday.
Darrell Blanton, the Knights’ leading scorer averaging 16.9 points per game, led Gannon both games with 20 and 19 points.
With nine games remaining in the regular season, all of which are against conference opponents, the Knights have found their groove balancing games every Wednesday and Saturday, Reilly said.
“The seniors have done a nice job leading us and we’re in a nice routine in practice now,” he said. “We’re intense with how we talk and listen, but we do nearly as much. Everything’s geared to the teams we’re playing next.”
Gannon’s attention to detail and the fundamentals has manifested itself on the court. Against Mercyhurst, the Knights hit their 32nd consecutive free throw, highlighting a three-game stretch in which they went 48-of-50 from the line.
“This year’s team is different than last year’s because we are all in it together; practicing, lifting, school,” Blazek said. “The higher attention to detail, the better team we have.”
While the Knights are without the services of forwards T.J. Wilson and Algeron Torrence due to injury, they have spread the ball around. Against Clarion, four players finished in double-figures, including guard Blazek, whose 17 points off the bench tied a season-high.
The Knights’ date with Slippery Rock Wednesday will break a tie for second-place in the PSAC and move the winner to within one game of Indiana, which will host Slippery Rock Saturday.
Gannon split a two-game series with the Rock last season.