Perhaps only in the narrative of the current Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference basketball season can you hear the tale of the mighty, crimson hawk being struck down by a (hardly) silent knight in shining, maroon and gold armor.
That’s just what happened when the Gannon Knights (11-3, 16-8) defeated the seventh-ranked Indiana University of Pennsylvania Crimson Hawks (10-3, 20-3) on Saturday, 67-62, before a record crowd at the Kovalchick Convention and Athletic Complex on IUP’s campus.
The victory gave the Knights sole possession of first place in the PSAC West after going 10-1 in their last 11 games. A win in either of their two remaining games clinches bragging rights as the top dog in the West for the regular season.
In accordance with a “Silent Night” promotion, IUP fans sought to stifle Gannon on the court by remaining completely silent until the Hawks reached 10 points in the game – at which point they did audible-up the intensity.
The fan-induced threshold wasn’t reached, however, until more than halfway (with less than 10 minutes remaining in the first half) through the opening frame.
Thanks to the faithful Gannon fans who made the long trip, the final buzzer served only to reprise the volume sustained during the “Silent Night” promotion.
Gannon graduate and well-known super-fan Everett Wensel is one of the Knights’ many dedicated fans who usually never miss a game – home or away.
“For the amount of ‘GU’ fans that were down at IUP, I’d say the 50 or 60 range, I am absolutely impressed with how loud the fan base was,” Wensel said.
Wensel said he thought the “Silent Night” promotion backfired on IUP.
“Due to Gannon’s great defense, it took 10 minutes for the crowd to get into the game and by then, the Gannon team had a feel for the game and could not be shaken,” Wensel said.
Junior guard Adam Blazek displayed his trademark poise and leadership in the unique, raucous-turned atmosphere, complemented by the confidence of a veteran who has been there before.
“We beat them last year – actually we were the first team to beat them at their new arena,” Blazek, who became the 26th Knight in history to reach 1,000 points in his Gannon career against IUP, said.
“We remember that feeling – the guys who were on the team last year. It was really nice to shut their fans up because it was pretty hostile and pretty loud and they did that ‘Silent Night,’ so it was a big win.”
Another signature win for the Knights was gained as they reopened the Hammermill Center in mid-January with a 67-61 overtime win over then fifth-ranked and undefeated IUP.
The Knights have faced their share of challenges from a roster standpoint in the year and coach John Reilly has made necessary adjustments along the way.
Reilly acknowledged that Gannon has faltered in some close games, playing a tough schedule, and he attributes the team’s recent success to its perseverance.
“We kind of blew a game right before Christmas at Bloomsburg then we had a week off and we only had about four days of practice before we went down to play the best team in the league – East Stroudsburg,” Reilly said.
“And we got popped.”
Final score: 75-60.
And while it may not seem plausible that there was a singular tipping point in the course of this waning season, Reilly recalls the second half of a close loss that came on the road to West Chester, one day after the East Stroudsburg affair.
“The next day we fell behind by 18, came back to lead the game by three and ended up losing that game,” Reilly said.
“I felt that something started to come together during that second half; the team started winning those tough games and we just found a way to keep it going.”
One of the things that has fostered Gannon’s run to first place is a strong group of seniors who will be recognized on Senior Night, at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when Clarion University visits the ‘Mill.
No one will be expecting any silent “Knights” in attendance for Senior Night.
“It’s unbelievable how fast the time goes and we’ll definitely miss them,” Reilly said. “We’re hoping to put something together with them before they go.”
Reilly, Blazek – don’t worry, he’s a junior – and company hope to send team co-captain C.J. Oldham on his way with some shiny new hardware, along with the other three seniors, Jabs Newby, Rogerio Livramento and Brandon Emmitt.
Oldham has been a staple in Reilly’s starting five, playing a key role in the offense as a power forward, of sorts.
Newby and Emmitt have each both helped comprise, complete and spell a Gannon backcourt that has proved dangerous this season.
“They’ve been great,” Reilly said of his four seniors.
“They’ve been hard-working, mature, good students and we’re really proud of them.”
Livramento has been especially prevalent lately; he went 9-for-10 from the field and scored 25 points off the bench against IUP on Saturday.
“I struggled in the beginning of the year trying to fit in with the team and find out what they needed from me,” Livramento said.
“I’ve been happy lately. I’ve been getting more minutes and more chances to produce for the team and do the best I can do for them.”