Photo courtesy of Sideline Photos
Saint Joseph’s (13-15, 7-9) was riding high about two weeks ago. After their win on February 11th over George Washington, the Hawks were in an ideal position to make some noise in the A10. SJU had just won 7 of their last 9 games, and they were doing so without one of their most impactful players in Kacper Klaczek who had been out with an illness since late January. Saint Joe’s was likely looking forward to the return of Klaczek, but they would be missing another asset due to injury. SJU’s starting center, Ejike Obinna, was out with a foot injury and had a boot on his foot after suffering an injury in the final couple minutes in the Davidson game on Saturday afternoon. On paper, one might assume that Obinna would not have been able to keep up with the athleticism of VCU’s iconic “havoc” defense that VCU has demonstrated for many years under Shaka Smart, Will Wade and now Mike Rhoades. VCU’s identity has consistently been defense and athleticism. They wreaked havoc on the Hawks defense from the start. VCU jumped out to an 8-0 lead early, and it looked like Saint Joe’s might not score. SJU followed that VCU run with their own 6-0 run before VCU answered thanks to a few threes by Jayden Nunn. He had 23 points at the half without missing a shot. Nunn was unconscious from the field all night. The only shot he missed he was able to get his own rebound and put it back in. Nunn finished with a career-high 31 points on 12-13 shooting. SJU found themselves down 36-19 at one point in the second half, but Erik Reynolds carried the load for the Hawks who hit a three at the end of the first half to cut the deficit to 10 points. Reynolds did everything he could as he finished with a team-high 21 points. The second half saw the Hawks battling early on and had multiple opportunities to cut the lead to single digits. After some missed open shots, bad turnovers and blown defensive assignments, the Hawks spiraled. VCU continued with their aggressive defense and shot the Hawks out of the gym hitting 11-19 from three-point range on their way to a blowout win 88-63.
PRESSURE IS ON TO END THE SEASON
If you read my article from a few weeks ago, I noted it was imperative for the Hawks to win three of four games after defeating George Mason on January 29th. After dropping a brutal loss to La Salle at home, they were able to pick up wins over Loyola Chicago and GW. Saint Joe’s had one of the most challenging schedules to end the season among A10 teams. It was clear after the second loss of the season to Duquesne that Saint Joe’s does not match up well against them. I didn’t take a whole lot away from the Duquesne loss, but I expected Saint Joe’s to handle business against Davidson. SJU played well enough to win against the Wildcats but blew a 10-point lead and lost by one point in heartbreaking fashion. Now after the beatdown from VCU, the Hawks now sit in 11th place in the A10 standings. SJU needs to find a way to get that top 9 seed to get that coveted first round bye in Brooklyn for the A10 tournament. Hawk fans know how difficult it is to win in Olean, NY at St. Bonaventure. The Hawks have not won at the Reilly Center since 2014, so it will be a tall task even in a down year for the Bonnies. Saint Joe’s will then host Richmond for senior night and their last game of the regular season. On paper it seems like the Hawks may have the edge, but the Spiders have one of the best players in the conference in Tyler Burton. Long-time Head Coach of the Spiders, Chris Mooney, had to take a leave of absence to deal with some medical issues, but that did not deter the Spiders from completing a comeback against Saint Louis on Tuesday night. Can Saint Joe’s win both games to end the regular season? Maybe. However, you never want to have impactful games like these to end the year especially on senior night. In 2016, Saint Joe’s was a top team in the A10 heading into a senior day game against Duquense where they were upset on their own floor. That forced SJU to win a few games in the A10 tournament to guarantee their chances at an at-large bid. Of course, they didn’t need the at-large bid after winning the A10 tournament, but SJU has a track record of losing these important games at the end of the season. Let’s see if they can salvage the season.
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