College basketball is finally back and it was great to see the A10 perform well through the first portion of games. It was especially great to turn on my television to see the familiar faces of Matt Martucci and Joe Lunardi calling the game. If you missed the Hawks in their first week of play do not worry! This article covers everything you need to know after a week of Saint Joe’s basketball.
SJU vs. Bradley
Coach Billy Lange earned his first win as head coach of the Saint Joe’s Hawks by beating the Bradley Braves 81-86. The highly anticipated game did not disappoint by any means. The two teams kept it close throughout the two halves of play. The Hawks were carried to victory by a standout performance by red shirt junior Ryan Daly who collected 26 points, 4 assist, and 5 rebounds. The most impressive part of his performance was the fact that he scored 26 points without making a single three pointer all game (0-6). In fact, the entire SJU roster had an awful outing from beyond the arch and yet were still able to win a game against a 2019-2019 tournament team. Speaking of the roster, did I forget to mention that Coach Lange only had 6 scholarship athletes dress for the game!
Yes, you heard that correctly. With only 6 scholarship athletes the Hawks were able to win the game as five-point underdogs, all while shooting below 30% from three. Both teams took the liberty of using the first half to shake off some of the preseason rust. Anyone who has played basketball will tell you that it is extremely hard to simulate game intensity basketball in offseason practices and scrimmages. Thus the players had to utilize the first ten minutes of the game to settle into the feeling of normal speed.
Yet these first ten minutes proved to be the most difficult for the Hawks in their season opener. Given the fact that this was a roster of players who were new to one another it would have been very easy for the Hawks to go into halftime without the lead. It was a legitimate fear to think that this team would be down double digits at the half if they never found their rhythm. It is when you go into the locker room down ten or more points when the doubt begins to creep in. The excuses of “it’s a rebuild year”, and “it’s only the first game” begin to murmur throughout the Locker room. However, that didn’t happen. Instead this team fought back and demonstrated the mantra of “bend but do not break”.
The first challenge for the Hawks came at the 11-minute mark of the game. Instead of folding when down 18-7, the Hawks went on a come from behind with a 13-2 run thanks to some critical plays by Rahmir Moore. The reason the Hawks were down early was because they continually pushed the ball and settled for threes throughout the first eight minutes. The Hawks persistent pushing of the ball led to costly turnover and free possessions for the Bradley Braces. It wasn’t until they slowed the game down and forced Bradley to play slow in the half court, did the Hawks make a comeback. An impressive feat when you take into consideration that Bradly had a height advantage which showed in their domination of rebounds. The rebounding was not surprising and was one of the points of emphasis I made in the preseason. Yet, this team was able to overcome this flaw and beat Bradley at their own game.
This startling revelation of slowed paced illustrated that this maybe the ideal identity for Saint Joe’s. That the team should be built around methodical half court sets. They looked more controlled when the game was slowed down. A feature that may be beneficial to the younger talent on the roster. Slowing the physical game on the court may make it easier for younger players to make the correct reads and improve ball security. There is no denying that when Saint Joe’s played fast, they made multiple mental mistakes that led to costly turnovers. However, when Ryan Daly slowed game play down and led the offense the players looked more controlled and composed. The best part is that playing a slower style and focusing on 3-point shots are not mutually exclusive concepts. In fact, I believe that having clean half court offenses leads to cleaner looks. Lange can have his cake and eat it too, shooting three’s and slowing down are both possible! Think, its more beneficial to be more like the San Antonio Spurs and less like the Houston Rockets.
While staying on the topic of team identity, how about Billy Lange? SJU finally has a coach that will show some emotion on the court. This is a stark contrast to the many games in which Coach Martelli would stand on the sideline with a pouty look on his face. Waiting for multiple minutes to finally call a timeout and make a necessary adjustment. I prefer the Lange approach. A style that is lively and is actively adjusting while the game is being played. This active style of coaching is much better than waiting for a TV timeout to figure out the game plan after a surrendered nine-point run. On top of this, the active style shows a little more passion and heart. Both players and fans clearly feed off the energy of the coach. While I never expect a coach to go full Bob Knight on the sideline, I do think being emotionally absent can suck the energy out of the best teams and fanbases.
In Summary, this was a great for SJU. The win was a bright spot in the already strong showing by the Atlantic 10 in opening night. Saint Joe’s showed a lot of the promise I hoped they would when I wrote my preseason piece. With all the easy reasons to quit; this team showed grit and pulled out a win against a strong and respectable opponent. Let us not forget Bradley was in the NCAA tournament and won the Missouri Valley Conference last year. It is safe to say that this was a win that the university could hang their hat on.
SJU vs. Old Dominion
After the win against Bradley, Saint Joseph’s went on the road on Sunday to play Old Dominion. Last year SJU opened their season with a win against ODU who at the time was coming off an NCAA tournament appearance. The Hawks wasted no time this year in getting into an early rhythm. Lorenzo Edwards led the charge for SJU shooting 6-9 from the field with 85% three-point shooting. His fantastic first half start was not the only one for SJU. The entire team was at 55% from three at the half, an impressive effort for a group on their first road game of the season. This young roster played so well that SJU went into the half with a 38 to 34 lead over Old Dominion.
The first half showed that when the threes are falling SJU can be a formidable opponent. With Ryan Daly going 1 for 6 from the field, Edwards and the whole team were able to make up for his slow start with effective shooting from beyond. This was critical when you take into perspective the fact the Daly carried SJU against Bradley with 26 points. The rest of the roster had to step up in order to keep the game close at halftime. However, if SJU wanted to steal this game on the road Daly would need to come out in the second half and contribute on the offensive side of the ball.
Unfortunately, the second half did not start off well for SJU. The team had gone 1 for 6 from the field to start the half. This was not an ideal situation for a young Hawks team on the road. Ryan Daly continued to struggle the rest of the game ending with a FG total of 2-14. Cameron Brown also struggled this game finishing with a shooting total of 3-12. The Hawks could not keep up the offensive success they had in the first, ultimately losing to ODU with a score of 69 to 82. One of the reasons SJU struggled in the second half was because Lorenzo Edwards went silent After a stand out performance in the first the Junior Forward only attempted one shot the entire second half.
However, I contest that even with these setbacks SJU did remain competitive for a good portion of the second half. Rahmir Moore impressed again providing a five point at the 8:00 mark to keep the hawks within four of ODU. The scoring boost from Moore was similar to the one he had against Bradley. The Hawks just couldn’t seem to keep ODU from scoring on the other end. Every time the Hawks had an answer on offense, they would allow ODU to score on the other side. ODU’s dominance in rebounds, steals and blocks kept them in the game even when SJU was shooting better from the floor. What also helped ODU gain the lead was free throws. While SJU had more shot attempts and had a better shooting percentage the entire game; ODU broke away in the last four minutes thanks to their free throws. That is the thing, SJU was always within four or five points of ODU. It wasn’t until the last three minutes when ODU gained a sizable lead through their excellent free throw shooting. So do not let this box score fool you, SJU did keep the game close. ODU was just able to finish the game off stronger.
After taking both games into perspective I believe that this SJU team will be as interesting as I said they would be a week ago. While it would’ve been nice to see the Hawks start 2-0, I believe they are still trending in a positive direction. They played ODU hard and kept the game close on the road. On top of this the hard-fought win against Bradley is the type of confidence boost this team needed as they enter the harder portion of their season. Win or lose, if this SJU team continually shows the great effort they have demonstrated so far, I think all Hawks fans would be happy. Philadelphia sports fans can overlook losses as long as their team shows some heart. Fortunately that’s what this Saint Joe’s team has done so far. If the Hawks keep playing like this, I have nothing to complain about.
Saint Joseph’s is set to play Uconn (11/13) and Loyal Chicago (11/16) this week.