Following its elimination from the NIT tournament last season, Saint Joseph's Hawks coach Phil Martelli bemoaned his young team's lack of leadership.
It hasn't been a full year since that night in March, but the Hawks appear to have grown up in some respects. And over their last two games, they've found a leader when they needed one most.
With his team down nine and less than six minutes to play, Carl Jones buried back-to-back threes and scored eight of his team's final 18 points to rally St. Joe's past the Temple Owls, 70-69, on Friday night (see Instant Replay).
Jones finished with 16 points, turned the ball over just once, and sparked his team into an 18-8 run over the final 5:10 to advance the Hawks to 13-7 overall, 4-3 in the A-10 and 2-1 in the Big 5.
Call it maturation. Call it fear. Maybe call it a little bit of both. Martelli did.
"I'll be kind and say I hope it was maturity. In some ways I hope it was fear. No, I mean that. Fear of losing and fear of 'I'm not staying out here if I don't do it the right way,' he said.
"The thing I like about [his production] is that he did it within the game. There's a lot of times in his career where he's done it -- and I say this like in a kind way -- to score points. Today he did it in the game. We had a decided advantage in the lane, and he stayed with that."
Terming it a "decided advantage" doesn't really do it justice. "Almost-comic domination" comes a little closer. St. Joe's outscored Temple in the paint 22-10 in the first half and 40-16 by game's end.
The Hawks' three junior big men -- Ronald Roberts, Halil Kanacevic and C.J. Aiken -- combined for 46 points, 25 rebounds and went 11 of 14 from the free-throw line. Roberts recorded a team-high in points (18), Kanacevic fell one board and two helpers shy of a triple-double (12 points, nine rebounds, eight assists), and Aiken finished with 16, including three alley-oops.
Jones wasn't going to get in the way of all that -- until he had to.
What had been a close game throughout suddenly wasn't when Temple took a nine-point lead with 5:39 to play on one of Khalif Wyatt's seven three-pointers. Wyatt was on his way to a career-high 34 points, but it was Jones who swung the game, nailing back-to-back threes on St. Joe's next two possessions.
"I thought the two biggest plays might have been Jones' threes," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "One was off a foul shot that we had with Khalif. They ran it down very quickly and we didn't match up to Jones. And then the next time -- I think it was late in the shot clock -- we just didn't switch out enough or blast that ball screen enough to limit that. Those two threes by Jones I thought were huge."
His final basket of the game came on a layup with 1:05 to play, when he surveyed the floor and then just blew past everyone down the right side of the lane.
"And then the dribble-drive, I think because they were concerned about the inside play, he got a crack to the basket," Martelli said.
"I was just trying to let the game come to me," Jones said. "I wasn't trying to force too many shots. But, at the end of the game, they needed me, so I tried to step up and hit some big shots.
"I'd rather win than anything. So until the point came when I thought we wasn't gonna win and I had to do something, that's when I had to do something."
True, Jones may be a little different in his fourth year on Hawk Hill, but -- just like the Hawk -- certain behaviors never die; in the first half, Jones tore down the floor, pulled up, buried a three in front of Wyatt, and then yelled at him.
From one showman to another.
"I like playing against Tay. He's a competitor," Wyatt said. "He talks. He's little (5-foot-11) -- well, I'm not gonna say he's little -- but he's smaller and he plays with that chip on his shoulder. You gotta like playing against guys like him. He's not going to back down. He doesn't care who you are or what you do or anything like that. He's fearless."
Jones' performance Saturday night followed his game-winning effort on Wednesday, when he made 7 of 8 free throws in the final minute of St. Joe's 66-62 win at Fordham.
It's been bumpy at times, even recently -- Jones was suspended for the first two games of this season for a violation of school community standards -- but as his St. Joe's career approaches its end, the Hawks will need Jones' talents if their going to make it back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008. They'll need some of his new-found discipline, too.
"He has grown up," Martelli said. "He has grown up. But, still, with nine games left in his college career, nine regular-season games, there's a lot of growth that can be there."