Saint Joseph’s Basketball kicked off its season this Friday with a highly anticipated game against the University of Houston (#3). Houston, returning many of their players from their Elite 8 run in 2021-22, took no time setting the tone against this new Saint Joe’s roster. The Cougars jumped to an early lead in the first half, easily scoring 46 points. While the Hawks did put up a fight in the second half, it wasn’t enough as Houston beat Saint Joe’s 81 to 55 in a no-contest.
A Second Half to Talk About
As mentioned, for the first half, the Cougars continually out played the Saint Joe’s Hawks. Additionally, Saint Joe’s was unable to generate their own points as well. In fact, many of Saint Joe’s baskets came from quick, second chance points, like Ejike Obinna’s (Center) opening dunk. Unfortunately, outside those lucky break plays, Saint Joe’s had no ability to run any type of offensive half court play.
However, Saint Joe’s did start the second half with some energy. The Hawks played with lockdown defense, holding Houston to just ten points in the first ten minutes of the half. In addition to their defense, SJU’s offense was spurred on by the notable play of Freshman Rasheer Fleming, who used steals and timely rebounds to breath life into the team. Fleming had an impressive stat line of 9 points, two steals and 7 total rebounds, three of which came on offense. Not bad for a freshman who had to debut against one of the best teams in the country. Yet, even the stat line doesn’t do his performance justice. When watching the game it was clear that Coach Lange won’t have much of a choice but to put Fleming in the starting lineup. Fleming knows how to position himself on the court, he attacks the basket and has good offensive awareness. Also, let us not forget that his physical attributes are the real deal (6’9, 220lbs).
While Ejike will still be the starting center, Fleming has shown to be our big with the best offensive awareness. He will have to be inserted as the starting power forward if the team wants to win. Kacper Klaczek (Forward) did contribute with 12 rebounds, but he still has a lot of growing to do, and as it stands now, is not a better option at four when compared to Fleming.
Hazardous Working Conditions
Sadly, this debate on who should be the starting power forward may all be for naught. Fleming took a spill when he stepped on someone’s foot and turned his ankle in the second half of the Houston game. The freshman hobbled off the floor and was later seen with crutches under both arms. Hopefully, he will return soon for Saint Joe’s. But, there has been no announcement from the team on his updated status. However, one thing to note, if you doubt that Fleming should start, consider that Saint Joe’s was ready to close within 10 points before the Fleming injury. As soon as he was removed from the game Houston took control and broke away from the Hawks.
Luckily, that was the only injury of the game, one caused by a normal basketball play and not from the wet floor. A small miracle when one considers the floor situation during the game. In what was originally blamed on the poor performance of the young ball boys, it soon became clear that there were adverse conditions in the stadium. Apparently, the floor could not be dried due to humidity. No matter how many people were mopping, players were continually slipping and sliding all over the court. It became almost cartoonish when 20 men took to the floor to mop the ground on their hands and knees. We even saw Ejike Obinna take a few swipes to help dry the court. The court conditions were so bad that the refs were ready to call the game if it wasn’t for both Coaches pleading to continue play.
Final Houston Thoughts
In the end, Houston turned out to be too much for Saint Joe’s. While the game put SJU on major television, it left me wondering if it was worth the price of admission. While Saint Joe’s did start the season an exhibition win against Townson, who is on a nice 3 game win streak, Houston really exposed SJU’s lack of identity. It would be foolish to expect SJU to win against Houston, but it is reasonable to expect that they should run and score on some set plays.
This inability to run half court sets has continually been an issue for this team. They have always relied on the skill and athleticism of individual contributors in order to score, rather than on a repeatable and scalable scheme. If March Madness has taught us anything, it’s that the team with less skill, and less athleticism, can pull an upset as long as they have an identity and scheme. They can outplay more talented teams when they know their style, stick to it, and minimize mistakes. Saint Joe’s didn’t need to beat Houston to have a successful season, but they did need to display a competent scheme and strategy.
Preview: Saint Joe’s v Lafayette
Saint Joe’s will now look towards their next game as they host Lafayette (0-2) on Monday, 11/14. Like the Townson exhibition, this game will be a more realistic litmus test for Saint Joe’s. Looking back at the last time these two teams played; Lafayette won in a decisive manner beating the Hawks 94 to 71 at Hagan. However, going back to 1950, Saint Joe’s does lead the series 30-9.
Saint Joe’s should be favored to win this game, but by no means should this be considered a guaranteed win. As outlined earlier, there are a few things this team needs to work on if they want to improve from last year. First, Ejike Obinna needs to be more aggressive. We have seen him play well against top talent. Look no further than when Saint Joe’s played against USC last year. To think Ejike could show up against a tall and talented USC team and then fall flat against Houston this year is hard to believe. We know Ejike can perform better, even against the top schools. Because of that, Saint Joe’s needs Obinna to be back in form, the same form that allowed him to average 12.1 points last year.
The other thing is the health of Rasheer Fleming. As stated above, it is clear he is worthy of starting minutes, the question is will he be healthy soon in order to get in the line up? Finally, the guards for Saint Joe’s need to be play better. Erik Reynolds (Guard) picked up where he last left off in 2021-22, scoring 17 points against Houston. Yet, he had no assists and was in early foul trouble. Foul trouble which took him off the court for extended stretches in the second half. Lynn Greer (Guard) also had a shaky start to the season. The transfer sophomore had a few errant shots to start the first half, and completed the game with only two assist. Both of these guards will need to improve both their ability to get to the rim, and their facilitation, in order for the Saint Joe’s to succeed. Regardless if their opponent is a top ranked Houston, or an 0-2 Lafayette.
Saint Joseph’s v. Lafayette is scheduled to tip off at 7:00pm EST this Monday and will air on ESPN+.