With exams at Saint Joseph’s University beginning on Monday it was only fitting for the Hawks men’s basketball team to face its stiffest test of the season as nationally-ranked Creighton came into Hagan Arena on Saturday afternoon. The Hawks passed the exam with flying colors as they upset the Blue Jays 80-71 in front of an energized sell-out crowd.
Early on it was Creighton (7-1) that took control of the game with an 8-0 run to take a 15-7 lead with 12:30 left in the first half, with Doug McDermott, the nation’s fourth-leading scorer and son of Blue Jays head coach Greg McDermott, scoring five points during the run.
A few minutes later the Hawks (7-3) would seize control with an 11-0 run of their own which featured dominant inside play from Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic. Both players netted a bucket on the inside as well as controlled the glass with rebounds on both the offensive and defensive side. With this run the Hawks led 28-20 with 6:02 left in the half after a Carl Jones traditional three-point play.
The Hawks domination of the interior continued as Kanacevic and Roberts controlled the paint while C.J. Aiken sat out with two fouls. With 2:34 left in the half, Roberts threw down a thunderous dunk that drew amazement from the Hagan Arena faithful. It was a dunk that Hawks coach Phil Martelli called “ridiculous” as the Hawks were up 34-26 at that point in the first half.
Saint Joseph’s would take a 35-30 lead into the locker room with the noise still reverberating throughout Hagan Arena after Roberts’ earlier dunk stunned everyone in attendance.
Creighton came out in the second half committed to do a better job on the interior and Gregory Echenique, a transfer from Rutgers, scored the Blue Jays first six points of the second half as Creighton cut the lead to 37-36 at the 14:51 mark of the second half.
After Jahnnes Manigat tied the game at 39 for Creighton with a three-pointer, the Hawks went on a 12-2 run with Jones scoring five of the points, giving the Hawks a 51-41 lead with 10:42 left.
While Creighton would briefly cut the lead to three with under eight minutes to go, the Hawks would pull away for good with Jones again coming up big. During one sequence, Jones broke down the Blue Jays defense with impressive cross-overs on consecutive possessions as Saint Joseph’s extended their lead to 63-52 with 5:32 left.
The Hawks were able to knock down their final seven free throws over the final 1:14 after only hitting 12 of their first 22 from the line as they sealed the 80-71 upset win, much to the delight of an energetic student section which rushed the court as the horn sounded.
Jones led the Hawks with 29 points with 20 of them coming in the second half, Roberts added 12 along with Langston Galloway, while Aiken knotted 11 points in the victory.
McDermott led the Blue Jays with 26 points and 10 rebounds in the loss while Antoine Young scored 15 and Echenique scored 10 on the afternoon.
Impressively, the Hawks outrebounded Creighton 40-28 for the game. Phil Martelli attributed the solid effort on the glass to his players putting in a “concentrated effort on the boards.”
The Hawks next game will be after exams on Saturday as they will face the Villanova Wildcats in the “Holy War”, which will be at Hagan Arena for the first time ever. Martelli had an interesting tidbit in his press conference about this upcoming game. “The game right after exams is the most difficult to coach,” Martelli said, “I don’t remember any of my teams having a crisp game in the game after exams.”
It is appropriate that this Hawks team has just passed its toughest test to this point in the season, but for the Hawks players it will seem like exams will last a bit longer as playing in the “Holy War” right after they finish their exams in the classroom will be another stiff test for this young, but quickly improving Hawks squad.