After a disappointing regular season, the Eisenhower boys have been given the gift of a second chance.
Despite finishing with an overall record of 8-13, the Knights qualified for the six-team District 10 Class A playoffs as the fourth seed.
Ike's playoff journey will begin on Friday night, when they take on sixth-seeded Commodore Perry (5-17) at 8 p.m. at Oil City High School in what should be a very winnable game.
The Panthers, 0-22 a season ago, finished just 1-7 in the all-Class A Region 1, and earlier this season lost to a Youngsville team that was in the midst of a 36-game losing streak.
After a slow start to the season, the Knights - with four seniors returning from a 13-10 playoff team last year - played much better down the stretch, winning three of their final four games.
"The kids are extremely happy to make the playoffs," Eisenhower coach Dave Allenson said. "I think some of them know the urgency of playing in the playoffs. It's a different atmosphere, and a higher level of intensity. That's what we've been stressing to them and hope it's getting across."
Several Knights will also be able to lean on the experience of playing in last year's postseason, when the Knights fell in the quarterfinals to VisionQuest, 71-50.
Allenson is hoping his team plays like they did over the course of their late-season three-game winning streak, rather than how they played in their season finale to Conneaut, a 78-51 defeat.
"We reverted back to our old ways a little bit (against Conneaut)," Allenson said, before pointing out how well his team played at Maplewood in a 53-49 overtime victory a few days before that loss.
"The Maplewood kids played really hard, but our kids really wanted to win that game, and the effort was really evident."
Heading into the game, the Knights have continued to focus on fundamentals, and are not overlooking Commodore Perry just because of its 5-17 overall record.
"Fundamentals is all we've been going over, along with a scouting report," Allenson said. "We've gotta play our game. (Commodore) is a real scrappy team. Probably not the most talented team we've played, but any time you have a team that's putting out effort and is scrappy, anything can happen. And I've been in situations where anything did happen. We can't overlook them no matter what their record is."
The Knights will be led by Aaron Lundmark, who is averaging 16.5 points per game, and Colin Shine, averaging 11.5. Jarrett Johnson, Alex Johnson, Nate O'Brien and Ryan Williams have also contributed greatly.
The Panthers will look to Sean Britton (8.5 points per game) and Brandon Stringent (7.4 points per game) for their scoring.
A win on Friday would not only give the Knights their first playoff victory in three years, but also a legitimate shot at qualifying for states, as three teams from District 10 Class A will advance to the PIAA Tournament. The Knights would face Cochranton (14-8, and the number-two seed) in the semifinals with a victory, with a trip to the finals or the third-place game on the line.