Knights sweep pair while Papich reaches milestone

When junior forward Jen Papich scored her 1,000th career point Saturday afternoon in Gannon University’s runaway win over Clarion University, she appreciated the standing ovation from the Hammermill Center crowd, but knew it wasn’t enough.

“It was early in the second half, and honestly, I was more focused on getting the win,” Papich said. “I didn’t really have time to relish it.”

Papich hit No. 1,000 early to a standing ovation as part of a 16-point performance in Gannon’s 79-59 win.

The Knights, who extended their lead in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division standings to two games last week with a come-from-behind win over Edinboro University Saturday, improved to 23-3 overall and 17-2 in conference games with another win over Clarion Saturday in the annual Pink Zone game.

The cancer fundraiser helped draw a crowd of nearly 1,700 largely decked out in black shirts reading “Together, we can Dominate.”

On the court it didn’t look like the Knights needed any help.

Gannon led by double-digits for most of the game, making the Knights 2-for-2 on the week. Their other win, a 71-62 victory over Edinboro Wednesday gave the Knights their first win over the Scots since March 2010.

With three games left in the regular season, Gannon can claim a share of the West with a win at crosstown rival Mercyhurst Wednesday night.

Gannon, which moved up to No. 9 in the latest national rankings, is seeking its first conference championship since it advanced to the Final Four in 2010. But coach Cleve Wright said the Knights’ next game remains their most important.

“We have to stay focused,” he said. “With three games left, I think it’s important to make sure we’re focusing on the game plan, stay disciplined, executing on offense and playing together on defense.”

In two games last week, the Knights’ defense once again looked like the third-ranked scoring squad in the PSAC. Gannon had allowed 80 points to Cal Feb. 9, a first for the Knights since early 2011.

“We had a blip at Cal, but in reality we got all of our goals except we didn’t play transition defense,” Wright said about the Knights trying to reach the goals they have for each game.

Each game, Gannon tries to achieve several goals: holding opponents to less than 60 points, taking charges, improved free throw-percentage and outrebounding its opponents.

“There are things that we try to accomplish every game that are challenging,” Papich said. “If we accomplish those, we have a better chance to win.”

The Knights are anxiously anticipating the release of the initial Atlantic Regional rankings Wednesday, which will ultimately decide the field for the NCAA tournament in March. The top eight teams in each region are awarded tournament bids. Gannon is vying for the top seed, which would host the first three rounds in the tournament.

“It’s much more important (than national rankings),” Wright said. “They determine whether or not you’re in the (national) tournament or not.”

Under a new PSAC playoff format this season, the top six teams in each division are awarded bids with the first- and second-place teams in each division earning a bye in the first round. Gannon has already clinched a first-round bye and will host the next round at the Hammermill Center.

The conference semifinals and finals will be hosted by the East’s top seed after Edinboro, the West champion the past two seasons, hosted last year’s conference final four.

“This year there will be a real big difference,” Wright said. “Our goal will be to finish up with these last three games and stay focused and get a win in that Tuesday quarterfinal game so we go to the final four.”

To do this, Wright said the Knights must continue to get the most out of their preparation.

“A lot of times at this point in the year, you’ll be thinking, ‘Let’s just get through this workout, we’re so tired,’ but we have to have the mentality to get something from it,” Wright said. “So change ‘that’ through to ‘from.’”

 

JOE CUNEO

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