Reilly becomes all-time wins leader

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The Gannon University men’s basketball team got more than just another conference win in Saturday’s 59-57 overtime road victory over California University of Pennsylvania.

The win clinched the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division’s top seed for the second consecutive year, and set up the potential for Gannon to host the PSAC Tournament Final Four at the Hammermill Center for the first time since 2009.

The victory also gave 10th-year coach John Reilly his 180th win, moving past current Youngstown State coach Jerry Slocum and making him the all-time winningest coach in Gannon history.

However, those accomplishments didn’t come easy.

The Knights (19-8, 17-4) were without senior leader A’Darius Porter, who came down with flu-like symptoms, and did not make the trip to California. The day did not get much better for the Knights, as the team bus broke down en route to the Convocation Center. Team members were stranded for about an hour before another bus could take them the rest of the way.

“There were a million distractions,” Reilly said about the road trip. “It’s a credit to our guys; they have mental toughness.”

The game wasn’t a walk in the park either, as the Knights and Vulcans (14-13, 9-12) had to use overtime for the second time this season to decide the winner.

California’s Khalil Jabbie knocked down two free throws with 56 seconds left in regulation, knotting the game at 53-53 to force overtime.

Adam Blazek’s potential game-winning 3-pointer – with less than 10 seconds remaining in overtime – was off the mark, but Rich Austin pulled down a huge offensive board and was fouled on the put-back. Austin drained both free throws to put the Knights up two with five seconds remaining.

Jabbie then air-balled a corner 3-point attempt, sealing the Gannon victory.

Blazek led the Knights with 15 points, while Raphell Thomas-Edwards added 14 points and eight rebounds.

Since losing to Indiana University of Pennsylvania on Feb. 2, the Knights have rattled off four straight wins.

“We let one slip at IUP, but since then we are scoring a little better,” Blazek said. “We are hitting the 70-point mark more and our offense is flowing better.”

On Wednesday Gannon closed out the nonconference portion of its schedule with a 70-49 romp over Le Moyne.

The Knights raced to a 15-point halftime lead and never looked back.

Blazek recorded his first career double-double with 10 points and 10 rebounds.

Girbran Smith paced Gannon with 15 points, while Thomas-Edwards tossed in 11 points and collected seven boards.

The Knights will play their final regular-season home game at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday when they host Seton Hill at the Hammermill Center as part of Senior Night.

“Going into this game is very important for us,” Reilly said. “It’s Senior Night and we have five wonderful seniors. We are playing for them.”

Even though this will not be the last time the seniors – Austin, Porter, Smith, Thomas-Edwards and Blazek – will play on the Hammermill Center floor this season, it will still be an emotional night for all five of them, who will be honored in a pre-game ceremony.

Of the five, it might be the most emotional for Erie native Blazek.

Blazek has played on the Hammermill Center floor for seven years, four in college and three in high school for Cathedral Preparatory School, which uses the Hammermill Center for its varsity home games.

“It’s something I’ve looked forward to and dreaded my entire career,” Blazek said. “I’ve thought about it for a long time. When you’re a freshman you play for the seniors, when you’re a sophomore you play for the seniors and now I’m finally one of them.”

For Blazek, Senior Night will be an emotional night, but getting a win is top priority.

“I’m going to treat it as a regular game,” Blazek said. “It’s very important to get a win. We want momentum heading into the playoffs.”

The Knights earned a first-round bye in the PSAC tournament by virtue of their top finish in the Western Division and will host a tournament quarterfinal game at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Hammermill Center.

Gannon will play the winner of a first-round contest matching Slippery Rock against the division’s fifth seed, which has yet to be determined.

DOMINIC SANSONE

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