SOUTH KINGSTON, R.I. – Saint Joseph’s appears to be playing more like they did during a lot of non-conference play, which is a positive since they played well often. After Wednesday night’s 80-69 win at Rhode Island, the Hawks have won four out of five after losing four out of five. It’s a stretch that has been driven in part by their best player, and it has head coach Phil Martelli knowing they have work to do but in a better place with this team.
Wednesday’s game had enough concerns, with Martelli starting off the post-game press conference by saying that if they game went 20 more minutes, it would probably be more of the Hawks getting a lead followed by the Rams rallying. The Hawks had an eight-point lead in the first half, only to see the Rams grab a 38-36 lead at the break. They scored 14 unanswered points early in the second half to break a 43-43 tie, and Rhode Island went on a 14-3 run and later got within two. At that point, the Hawks ran off 12 unanswered points to seal the game.
“We get on the bus accomplishing what we came for – the win – and having a reason to practice tomorrow,” said Martelli. “There was a lot to clean up as we go on the road again on Saturday.”
The Hawks shot almost 56 percent for the game, including nearly 61 percent in the second half. While their defense has been an issue at times this season, they held the Rams to 34.3 percent shooting in the second half. Allowing 19 offensive rebounds and forcing just 10 turnovers helped, as did turning it over 14 times. The Rams had them scrambling during the first rally in the second half, as they got the press going and the Hawks had no answer for it. As Martelli put it, “We were all over the place with press offense.”
As has been the case most of the season, the guards drove this victory. Carl Jones had 28 points on 9-13 shooting and had six assists with no turnovers. Langston Galloway added 16 points on 5-8 shooting, and Martelli cited his defense on Rhode Island guard Billy Baron as a big key to the game. Jones and Galloway combined for nine assists with no turnovers and were 14-21 from the field, including 7-14 from long range.
C.J. Aiken (18 points on 8-14 shooting) and Halil Kanacevic (nine rebounds, seven assists) contributed nicely up front, as did surging Ronald Roberts (eight points), so it’s not as though the frontcourt was absent on Wednesday night. Roberts leads the team in scoring in Atlantic 10 games and appears to be coming into his own, while Kanacevic has become the team’s main stat sheet stuffer.
All the while, Jones’ play of late has been a big reason for the resurgence. In the stretch where the Hawks lost four out of five, Jones had something to do with that just like he has with the resurgence. He sat out the second game in the former stretch with a sprained ankle, and in the other four games he averaged 8.3 points per game and shot just over 25 percent from the field. He scored in double figures just once in that stretch. Since then, he has been in double figures every game, starting with his first career double-double at Richmond. Wednesday night was easily his best game in that stretch at both ends of the floor, although his offensive numbers will be most easily noticed.
“We’ve been waiting for him to come back offensively, and he had a nice shot selection game tonight,” said Martelli. “There wasn’t anything forced.”
Saint Joseph’s has four games left in the regular season, with two at home (Richmond and Temple) and two on the road (George Washington and St. Bonaventure). The Hawks are very much in the running for a first round bye in the conference tournament, as they sit just a game back in the loss column of third-place UMass, who they split with. Martelli knows this team is far from a finished product, but also likes some of what he sees at this point.
“We’re an imperfect team that has lots of reasons to practice, but there’s also lots of reasons to be optimistic now,” said Martelli.