The Slippery Rock University men’s basketball team secured sole possession of second place in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference-Western standings on Wednesday night with a 69-56 win over the Gannon University Golden Knights.
Although they never led during the game, the Golden Knights fought back from a 24-point deficit to cut the score to 60-53 with a little over one minute to play in the game.
The Rock went on a 9-3 closing run during the game’s final minutes to stop Gannon’s attempted comeback and secure the conference win.
The Green and White moved to 14-4 overall and 11-3 in the PSAC, bumping Gannon (16-4 overall, 10-4 PSAC) out of a shared second place spot and into third place.
Senior guard Darious Clark led the Rock offense with 18 points and seven rebounds on Wednesday.
Junior swingman Tabari Perry had 12 points and six boards of his own and senior forward Gerald Brooks added 10 points and six rebounds.
Senior guard Aubin Reeves had seven points, including a perfect 5-5 from the charity stripe during the final minutes of the game to hold off the Golden Knights’ comeback attempt.
Junior guard Sa’Quan Davis also had seven points in the winning effort for SRU.
The Green and White opened the game strong with a 22-12 lead with 8:30 to play in the first half.
They went on a 13-3 run near the end of the first half to take a 35-15 over the visting team.
Slippery Rock opened the second half with an early 5-0 run to take the 24-point lead, the largest lead of the game.
Gannon chipped at the score to cut the deficit to seven points with 90 seconds to play in the game before Slippery Rock denied the comeback and closed out the game with a scoring run of their own.
SRU shot 46% (22-48) from the field, 42% (5 of 12) from 3-point range, and an impressive 87% (20-23) from the free-throw line.
Gannon finished the game 35% (18-52) from the field, 44% (7-16) from behind the 3-point line, and 62% (13-21) from the foul line.
The Rock outrebounded the Golden Knights 39-26. They have led their opponents in rebounding in 17 of 18 games this season.
The win on Wednesday night set Slippery Rock up for an away matchup between the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the conference on Saturday as they take on Indiana University of Pa. (16-2 overall, 12-2 PSAC).
A win on Saturday would move the Rock into a tie with IUP for first place in the PSAC-West standings and would guarantee them a playoff spot at the beginning of March.
“We always take it one game at a time, but IUP on Saturday is a huge game since it’s for first place in the west and that’s one of our main goals this season,” freshman guard Maxx Rynd said.
Reeves also agrees with Rynd and says that the game on Saturday is an opportunity for the team to get back to where they were before the conference loss to Edinboro University on Jan. 26.
“If we get the win on Saturday, we will be tied for first place again, which would be great, and hopefully we can make a run and stay in that position,” Reeves said.
If the Green and White makes the postseason this year, it would be the first time since 1987-1991 that the team has made three or more consecutive trips to the PSAC tourney.
With the win on Wednesday, the team assured a fifth consecutive winning season.
The Rock has had a winning record in all five seasons under head coach Kevin Reynolds and has not had a success like this since the 1959-64 seasons.
Over the six-week winter break, the team enjoyed a nice amount of time away from schoolwork and could focus their time on practice and preparing for the tough second half of the season.
“Break was great because we were able to focus on just basketball and we really started to come together and click as a team and decide what it takes to win,” Rynd said.
After the game against IUP on Saturday, the Rock will play three of the next four games at home, including Clarion University (Feb. 6), Lock Haven University (Feb. 13), and Hooping for Cure game against Edinboro University (Feb. 16).
The next away game for the team will be against Mercyhurst University on Feb. 9.