Chris Wilson's full-court press lifts St. Joe's over Richmond

Chris Wilson's full-court press lifts St. Joe's over Richmond
February 14, 2013, 12:00 am
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St. Joe's committed 10 first-half turnovers, failed to register a field goal for the final 4:07 of the frame, and found itself on the wrong side of a 12-2 run when it trailed by nine at the half.

The Hawks looked slow, listless, sloppy. They needed something. Fortunately, sophomore point guard Chris Wilson had an idea.

"The press at halftime was [his] idea. He asked me if they could take a shot at one possession," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said. "I guess we scored the first 10 [points]."

The first 15 actually.

On the back of Wilson's full-court press suggestion, St. Joe's came out of the locker room on a 15-0 run and hung on for a 61-55 home win over the Richmond Spiders Wednesday night (see Instant Replay). The win snapped a two-game losing streak, improved the Hawks to 14-9 and pulled them back to .500 (5-5) in conference play.

Martelli's team hasn't pressed all year. Where exactly did this come from?

"We had been thinking about coming out in the second half of games showing a little something" he said. "We dabbled with this four or five days ago in practice for something different."

Just dabbling … and holding Richmond scoreless for the first 6:25 of the half. St. Joe's forced Richmond into three turnovers before the Spiders could score their first basket of the half.

"I think it led to more bounce in our step defensively in the halfcourt," Martelli detailed. "They threw it away one time. One time the referees missed a kid walk, like, three different times.

"But it was the defense. It was defense. We came out and we held them to 19 points and 24 percent shooting in the second half."

Shortly after his coach was finished, Wilson emerged from the showers, looking a bit curious as to why everyone was waiting for him at his locker. He had only scored five points on 1-for-6 shooting. Told that Martelli credited him with swinging the game, he just sort of smirked and shrugged and looked for some clothes.

"I didn't know it was going to do all that," he said, "but I'm glad it did. As a point guard, you have to have confidence that you can talk to your coach and that he'll listen to you and help make adjustments as we go on the fly. I think that, overall, is just trust, with us being an older group."

It was that same trust that later moved Martelli to draw up a key inbounds play for junior guard Langston Galloway with 27 seconds left and the Hawks up two. Galloway had been just 1 for 5 from the floor with four fouls to that point, but nailed a three from the right wing to seal the game.

"The ball left his hand," Martelli said. "That's the only way I can describe it. I'm not knocking the guy, but he shot two air balls in the first half. That's an all-league player who shot two air balls in the first half and didn't score.

"To his credit, he stepped back and -- I've always said this. If you think you're a good player, you're willing to live with the consequences. Because, if he misses that, you know what I mean? You get blasted, get blasted, and you gotta lay into him. But he made the shot."

Galloway admitted he was actually supposed to drive to the basket but that his defender knew the play, necessitating a step-back jumper. He chalked it up to having confidence in his own ability and seemed rather nonplussed about saving his team from what could have been a third consecutive loss.

He did get excited talking about that press, though.

"It was definitely a big point in the game," he said. "We definitely needed to pick up our energy, pick up our pace. We were moving slow, and we got going once we started pressing. We started moving faster and got the tempo going up-speed.

"It really was just like something we threw in in practice, a little wrinkle that we threw in, and it worked tonight. So you might see it further down the road. Hey, you never know."

Martelli does intend to use the press going forward, but he was quick to point out one obvious problem. Since his rotation runs only seven deep, a full-court press over a longer span of time could do as much to wear down his team as it would the opponent.

"Their tongues were hanging," he said. "[The press] is not something we spent a lot of time on, nor will we spend a lot of time on.

"We are what we are. I wish we could press, I wish we could play zone, I wish that we could run fast break every time down, I wish we could do all of that stuff that you watch on TV. We can't. We do what we do."

Which now has them at 5-5 in conference play, good enough for 10th place in the Atlantic 10. The top 12 make it to the A-10 tournament in Brooklyn, where the Hawks (87 RPI, 93 SOS) will likely need a run to Sunday if they're going to re-enter the NCAA tournament picture.

But for the next four days, they'll be focusing on another goal: the Big 5 Championship. With a 2-1 record in round-robin play, a win over La Salle at the Palestra this Saturday would guarantee the Hawks a share of the city title.

After that, they'll have five more games to secure their place in the conference tournament and, ideally, improve their seeding.

"You know, work to do," Martelli said. "And now they get a chance Saturday to play a Philadelphia game at the best building in college basketball. So, what more could you ask for?"

Guard Carl Jones (17 points) led St. Joe's in scoring for the ninth time this season and finished in double figures for the 17th time. … Forward Ron Roberts finished with his 15th career double-double on 16 points and 10 rebounds. … Led by Darien Brothers, who came into the game with the ninth-highest three-point percentage in the country (45.3), Richmond entered Wednesday night the second-best team in the A-10 from three (37.6). Against St. Joe's they finished just 6 of 20 and went just 1 for 10 in the second half. Brothers was 0 for 4.

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