A strong defensive effort helped propel the Saint Joseph’s Hawks to an 81-50 victory over Morgan State on Wednesday night as coach Phil Martelli won his 310th career game, setting the record for most victories by a head coach in program history.
A 10-0 run just a few minutes into the first half gave the Hawks (10-3) an 18-10 lead and St. Joe’s did not look back from that point. C.J. Aiken threw down two dunks during that sequence which were assisted by Halil Kanacevic, a theme that would become commonplace on the evening.
Kanacevic set a career high in assists for the second straight contest as he dropped 12 dimes, 10 of which came in a first half in which the Hawks shot 58% from the field on their way to a 44-26 halftime advantage.
“They (Morgan State) played a zone,” Martelli said after the game, “he (Kanacevic) put the ball where it needed to be against a zone.” Martelli also marveled at the fact that Kanacevic had 10 assists at halftime, wondering if it had been a typo on the box score.
The Hawks stayed in control during the second half by playing stifling defense, holding Morgan State (2-8) to 21% shooting from the field in the half and just 25% for the game. The Hawks also set a new program record for blocked shots in a game, swatting away 17 shots for the game, breaking the record set earlier this season in a win against Drexel. Kanacevic had 7 of those blocks, being as key of a contributor a player could be without scoring any points.
Carl Jones led the Hawks with 16 points and was one of four Hawks in double figures along with Ronald Roberts Jr. (15 points), Langston Galloway (14 points), and Chris Wilson (10 points).
But the focus after the game was on Martelli, who now has the school record for wins at a school that has seen such coaching legends as Bill Ferguson, Dr. Jack Ramsay and Jack McKinney.
Martelli was quick to deflect the praise for setting the record, insisting that having the record doesn’t change anything in the short-term. “This didn’t end the season, they didn’t cut down any nets, so lets move on to the next one,” Martelli said.
The “next one” is going to be a great test for the Hawks. After a successful homestand in which they went 5-0 to move their home mark to 7-0 on the season, the Hawks will travel up to Cambridge, MA to take on nationally-ranked Harvard on New Year’s Eve.
“We’ve proven we can play here (Hagan Arena), what will separate us is how we play on the road,” Martelli quipped.
The Hawks will get the opportunity to prove their mettle on Saturday afternoon at 4PM at Harvard, with a win over the Ivy League school likely to put the Hawks in the discussion as an at-large team for the 2012 NCAA Tournament at this point of the season as we close out 2011.