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They say basketball is a game of runs, and that’s exactly what the 2018 Porreco Pride of Erie game consisted of, as Gannon raced out to a 36-17 halftime lead before a second-half Mercyhurst rally made the game closer than it appeared.
Despite zero Knight field goals for five minutes and 49 seconds during a 12-0 Lakers run, Gannon held on for the victory.
Gannon’s defensive efforts were commendable throughout the first half as the Knights didn’t allow a point for more than three minutes to start the game. A five-point swing with 13:58 left in the half by way of an Evan Phoenix jumper and free throw, followed by a layup from Jair Green, gave Gannon an 11-4 advantage.
A three from Zay Jackson and two of Damon Miraud’s 14 points eventually capped a 13-4 run over a nine-minute span.
With the first half closing, back-to-back layups by Phoenix and Frank Webb Jr. during the final 44 seconds put the dot on the exclamation point that was the first half with the Knights heading to the locker room up, 36-17.
Gannon kept its defensive tempo up in the second half for the first five minutes before Mercyhurst’s momentum swung for the next 10.
A 12-0 run that lasted nearly six minutes got the Lakers within six midway through the second half before two key shots slammed the door for good.
Up just five, Devin Smith and Joe Fustine sank back-to-back 3-pointers off the bench to give the Knights a little bit more breathing room at 48-37.
A brief run by the Lakers was matched by a 5-0 Knight run to put the game away, despite Mercyhurst scoring seven of the game’s final 11. Phoenix mentioned that the team was able to bounce back from difficult situations like that in the past.
“We broke down a little in the second, but we have been in situations like that before and we were able to lock down and seal the win.” He said.
Miraud received the Porreco Pride of Erie Game Changer Award, recording 14 points, eight rebounds and four assists.
Phoenix recorded his third consecutive double-double – his sixth on the season – with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Jackson also finished with 14 points in the win.
On Saturday, Gannon shot 64.3 percent from the field in the first half on its way to a 44-26 halftime lead.
Leading 23-18 early in the half, Gannon pulled away with an 11-0 run sparked by Webb. The run continued with buckets from Green and Jackson followed by a Phoenix basket and two free throws to jump the advantage to 34-18.
Gannon’s defense held Millersville without a point for three minutes and 15 seconds during the run.
Heading into the locker room with a 44-26 lead, the Knights put the game away during the opening 10 minutes of the second half with a 9-0 run, pushing the lead to 56-30 on their way to a game-best 34-point lead.
Millersville never got closer than 26 points the rest of the way.
Phoenix later said he believes the key to their winning streak has been their defense.
“We have done a good job on our defensive assignments,” he said. “If we lock down on defense we know we can win the game.”
Four Knights — Green, Webb, Miraud and Gerrell Williams — scored double-digit points with Green leading the way with 16.
Gannon dished out at least 20 assists for the fourth time in the last five games and a rebounding margin greater than 20 for the fourth time this season.
Phoenix finished with how unselfish this team has been.
“The amount of assists goes to show we don’t care who scores and we have been giving the ball to whoever has the hot hand,” he said.
Up next, Gannon (13-5 overall and 9-3 in PSAC play) heads on the road Wednesday for a pivotal 7:30 p.m. PSAC Western Division battle against Slippery Rock (15-4). Gannon holds second place in the division, but Slippery Rock is only half a game behind.
The Knights will return to the Hammermill Center to host Pitt-Johnstown at 3 p.m. Saturday.