The Saint Joseph’s Hawks continued to roll as they beat the Richmond Spiders 76-73.The game, played in Richmond Va., was the second matchup between these two teams this season. In the first appearance Saint Joe’s was without Ryan Daly as they lost to Richmond 79-56.
However, tonight was a different story for Saint Joe’s. SJU was led by Forward Taylor Funk who finished the game with 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 2 assists. Funk shot 8-14 from the field and was 4-9 from beyond the three point line. In addition to Funk’s scoring exhibition, Guards Ryan Daly and Cameron Brown also contributed to the win with some healthy scoring. Daly finished the game with 14 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 assists. Cameron Brown scored 15 points and also finished with 3 rebounds.
On the other hand, Richmond seemed unable to catch a break tonight. The biggest stroke of bad luck was that both Blake Francis and Grant Golden, who are 1,000 point scorers, departed from the game with injuries.
The shorthanded Spiders were led by Nathan Cayo who finished the game with 25 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists. Cayo was a one man wrecking crew, continually working to keep the gap between SJU and Richmond close.
Saint Joe’s is Rolling
This game was Saint Joe’s third win in a row. The winning streak now includes wins against La Salle, Dayton, and Richmond. In fact, this is the first time since 2018-2019 where Saint Joe’s has won three games in a row. In that year SJU had opened the season with wins against Old Dominion, Monmouth, and Wake Forest.
Tonight’s win proved that Saint Joe’s is the most dangerous member of the A10 basement. Coach Billy Lange has the team running on all cylinders. The Hawks have greatly improved their ability to cut to the rim and score more efficient shots. This is largely due in part to the return of Daly. In addition, thanks to Daly, the court spacing for the Hawks has drastically improved from just a month ago.
Another thing worth mentioning is SJU’s defense. Saint Joe’s has quietly improved its defense and it was on full display tonight. The Hawks were easily switching off screens and had no problem boxing out the Spiders. They even finished the game with 29 defensive rebounds and 8 steals.
From a team perspective, tonight was a good win for Saint Joe’s. Was this the best shooting performance this season? No. Was this the greatest defensive shut out in Hawk Hill history? No. This was a gritty win against a solid Richmond team. All night long Saint Joe’s had to hold on to a short lead and defend against multiple runs by the Spiders. This game was the first time in a while where SJU did not play their best basketball but still came out with the win. In a conference that is so deep, learning to win on “off nights” matters more than what one may think.
Time to Talk about Taylor Funk
Taylor Funk, who I have not given enough credit this season, has really turned it on in the past month. Tonight was just another example of Funk putting all of his abilities on display. This forward can set screens, cut to the rim, shoot threes, and post up with ease. His improvement from last year should not go unnoticed, regardless of if the conference refuses to award him most improved.
Finally, Cameron Brown and Rahmir Moore, two of Coach Lange’s more important pieces last year, seemed to go wayward for the majority of this season. However, since the La Salle win, these two players have had a resurgence and have been critical to the success of Saint Joe’s. These two guards bring a ton of energy to the roster. They are the best two way players for Saint Joe’s and when they play with confidence it truly impacts the way SJU looks.
Saint Joseph’s is playing up to the ability I knew they were capable of back in October. Give Coach Lange his credit, he has turned Saint Joe’s around and positioned them as the new “must watch” of the A10.
Is Richmond Reeling?
The Richmond Spiders find themselves in a difficult position after tonight’s loss. The Spiders had the ability to control their own destiny to obtain a top 4 seed. Instead, they find themselves as an 8 seed for the A10 tournament. However, as mentioned before, Richmond found itself without Grant Golden and Blake Francis midway through this game. The Spiders had to fight a scrappy SJU team with a roster that was at half strength.
It should also be noted that Richmond was only one shot away from pushing this game to overtime. With only .4 left on the clock, Richmond’s Matt Grace took the go ahead jumper to the tie the game. The shot ended up going in the basket. However, the officials called the basket off since Grace was unable to release the ball in time.
Another critical moment for the Spiders came with 30 seconds left in the game. This is when Guard Andre Gustavson took an ill advised layup, which would’ve brought the game within one point. The possession was extremely hectic and it ended in a rush shot. While this pivotal shot wasn’t the only scoring opportunity for Richmond, it was a chance for the Spiders to close it within one with 20 seconds remaining. I believe if Richmond wasn’t missing two key veteran players for those final baskets, they would’ve have ended those possessions with much higher quality looks.
The question now for Richmond fans is this: Can Chris Mooney salvage his job with an NCAA auto bid?
Saint Joe’s is scheduled to play La Salle this Wednesday in the first round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. This will be the third match up between these Philadelphia Big 5 rivals. Richmond is scheduled to play Duquesne this Thursday.