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Big 5 Classic

December 8, 2002 Columns No Comments

Live from the Palestra – the Big 5 Classic

by Phil Kasiecki

On Saturday, the second annual Big 5 Classic brought together the six Division I basketball teams from the City of Brotherly Love. The games were all played at the historic Palestra at the University of Pennsylvania, an appropriate setting. The first game of the day saw a sparse crowd, but there were fewer empty seats and a livelier crowd at the later games.

St. Joseph’s (5-0) 50, Drexel (3-2) 37

The day’s opening game was ugly, as Drexel and St. Joseph’s combined to shoot under 32% from the field in the Hawks’ 50-37 win. The Hawks scored the game’s first 8 points, then kept their lead after Jameer Nelson (12 points, 3 steals) picked up his second foul just over seven minutes of the half and only returned for the final 27 seconds of the half. Delonte West was primarily responsible for that as he scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half (he filled the stat sheet by adding 9 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 steals).

The game was not very well-officiated in the eyes of both head coaches. St. Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli was not very pleased with some calls, and also commented on the officiating after the game. “I wasn’t the only one that couldn’t see today, I’ll leave it at that.” Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint picked up a technical foul with just over twelve minutes left to play, which seemed to spark his team as they would run off 13 unanswered points shortly thereafter to cut St. Joseph’s biggest lead down to 39-34 with just under seven minutes left.

St. Joseph’s is off to a fine start and looks like a team to watch in the Atlantic Ten. They were a major disappointment last season as they appeared to buckle under the pressure of heavy expectations, but Nelson is leading a team with better balance in scoring. West can shoot the ball in streaks (he missed all six of his field goal attempts in the second half), sophomore Pat Carroll (brother of Notre Dame senior Matt) has a good shooting stroke and has played well, and the Hawks have good, unspectacular post players in Dave Mallon, Jon Bryant, Alexandre Sazonov and Dwayne Jones. Martelli especially emphasized the play of Jones in this game, as Jones had just three points but also blocked three shots, and defended Drexel star center Robert Battle very well. “He fought him tooth and nail”, Martelli said of his effort. Battle had 12 points, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks, but was 5-11 from the field and committed seven turnovers.

Bruiser Flint has kept Drexel at a high level since becoming the head coach last season. The Dragons lost two All-America East forwards from the previous season and also lost starting point guard Ashley Howard due to a heart condition, but the Dragons finished third in their inaugural season in the Colonial Athletic Association and will be a contender this season. Battle is one of the nation’s best post defenders, and the Dragons have a good floor leader in senior Eric Schmieder, who led the CAA in assists last season. Junior Sean Brooks gives them more size on the post, and the Dragons have plenty of perimeter talent ranging from sophomore shooter Phil Goss to fellow sophomore slasher Jeremiah King and quick junior guard David Hilton. Flint knows this team can win games even against a team like St. Joseph’s and in an event like this where Drexel is not part of the Big 5. “Drexel’s not coming in just to be part of the show”, he said in the postgame press conference.

Villanova (4-2) 74, LaSalle (3-2) 71

Villanova led by as many as 14 points before having to stave off a late rally by LaSalle to tie it in their 74-71 victory. The Wildcats broke open a close game with an 11-0 run to go up 56-42, but LaSalle would battle back and eventually tie it at 64 on consecutive three-pointers by freshman Gary Neal (tied for the game high with 21 points). They took the lead for good with two free throws by Ricky Wright (21 points, 12 rebounds) with just under four minutes to play.

Allan Ray was a key in the game for Villanova, as he shot the ball well en route to 19 points. Jermaine Thomas played a strong game in defeat for LaSalle with 18 points and 8 assists.

Wright keyed the big run for the Wildcats with several offensive rebounds and put-backs. He had 15 of his points and 10 of his rebounds in the second half, and made several free throws down the stretch. LaSalle coach Billy Hahn noted that the Explorers’ post players aren’t as strong as Wright, one reason why they took over, but he was more concerned about their 8-20 showing at the free throw line while adding some self-deprecating humor. “That’s the difference”, Hahn said. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure that out, I graduated from Maryland.”

Jay Wright spoke highly of LaSalle and Hahn’s efforts while saying that this is the kind of game one expects in the Big 5. “You know somebody’s going to have to make big shots”, Wright said before commenting more on LaSalle. “They’re playing with great confidence, and that’s a tribute to coach Hahn.”

Wright’s words need not be taken as a coach simply being politically correct in speaking about the opposition. The Explorers have struggled in recent years, but the talent base is unquestionably improving. Thomas is a nice upgrade at the point, Neal is an excellent scorer who can shoot the ball (shooting 42.5% on three-pointers) and sophomore Mike Cleaves is a strong scorer in the backcourt. The frontcourt is hurting with the absence of Reggie Okosa (they were out-rebounded 38-29 in this game), but freshman Steven Smith is a well-built forward who looks like he will be a good player down the road, and there is more size up front with junior Joel Jean-Baptiste. The Explorers are not Atlantic Ten favorites by any stretch, but they will win some games this season.

The Wildcats have a freshman class that has received plenty of attention, but seniors Wright and Gary Buchanan have been keys to this team thus far, while Andrew Sullivan played well in this game and remains a quality role player. Ray gave them a big lift, and freshman Jason Fraser struggled finishing shots as he was just 3 of 9 from the field, many of them shots he would make with more strength. He hauled down 8 rebounds, continuing to average a double-double in the early going (11.5 points, 10.2 rebounds per game).

Pennsylvania (2-2) 71, Temple (0-5) 46

Pennsylvania had entered the game having surprised with its 1-2 start, but they may have hit their stride with a 71-46 blowout of Temple that was never in doubt.

The Quakers scored the first 13 points of the game and dominated the struggling Owls in most areas. A look at the final box score illustrates this, as they shot just under 53% from the field including making 15 of 27 three-pointers, out-rebounded the Owls by 11 despite no player having more than 4, and had 24 assists on 27 made field goals. Temple shot just 32.7% from the field, losing despite 27 points and 8 rebounds from Alex Wesby. Their starting guards, David Hawkins and Maurice Collins, combined for 9 points on 1-18 shooting.

The Quakers played a perfect game of ball movement, patience, making plays, and shooting the ball. This is the type of game many feel the Quakers are capable of on a regular basis, as they were in some preseason polls and have been by and large a nearly prohibitive favorite in the Ivy League.

The Owls, on the other hand, could be facing a long season. Today’s game highlighted the key weaknesses of the Owls, notably the lack of a point guard and the team’s overall youth, which head coach John Chaney talked about after the game. He noted the problems of having to play point guard by committee: “No point guard, cannot win in this business.” He also feels his frontcourt players have been soft, and his bench has not helped his team out. “Every time I put one of my guys in, there’s no relief and no remedy.”


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