'Nova struggles, loses big to No. 23 St. Johns

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'Nova struggles, loses big to No. 23 St. Johns

Saturday, February 26, 2011
Posted: 4:31 p.m. Updated: 6:20 p.m.
By Dave ZeitlinCSNPhilly.com contributor

BOX SCORE

St. Johns was so adept at scoring Saturday that the Red Storm even made one basket on the wrong end.

But that gift an accidental tip-in from St. Johns senior D.J. Kennedy in the first half couldnt help Villanova stay with the explosive Red Storm as the Wildcats lost a Big East matinee at the Wells Fargo Center, 81-68.

No. 23 St. Johns (19-9 overall, 11-5 Big East), which recently earned its first national ranking in 11 years, has now won eight of its last nine games and is peaking at the right time.

And then theres Villanova, which continues to plummet down the Big East standings. With Saturdays loss, the No. 15 Wildcats (21-8, 9-7) have lost seven of their last 12.

I think St. Johns is playing as well as anyone in the country right now, Villanova head coach Jay Wright said. Theyre well-coached. They play smart, tough, unselfish. I think they have a great feel for how they can win games right now, and thats one of the things were struggling with. Were not clicking.

At the beginning of the season, few would have predicted that St. Johns would be ahead of Villanova in the Big East pecking order. Even fewer would have guessed that after the Wildcats won 16 of their first 17 games and looked like one of the best teams in the nation, let alone the conference.

But in a loaded league where as many as 11 teams could make the NCAA tournament, Wright understands how quickly things can change.

I feel like were getting, believe it or not, a little bit better but not good enough for this league, the Villanova coach said. I dont think were getting worse. If we didnt play Syracuse, St. Johns, Pitt, then maybe it might show. But its not good enough right now in this league.

Against the red-hot Red Storm, Villanova looked overmatched at times.

Through the first four minutes, St. Johns was in the process of an even larger demolition than what took place next door at the Building Formerly Known as The Spectrum, jumping out to an 18-4 lead on the strength of four three-pointers.

Thanks in large part to the hot hand of reserve guard Dominic Cheek (11 points), the Wildcats clawed back into the game, trailing only 41-36 at the half. But Villanova never could take the lead, despite a few chances to do so after the break.

St. Johns, which pressed on defense and attacked on offense throughout the afternoon, continued to put the pressure on in the final couple of minutes to force timely Nova turnovers, gobble up a couple of key offensive rebounds off missed free throws, and run away with its first road win against a nationally ranked team since 2002.

The closest the 'Cats came was when they pulled within one at 65-64 with four minutes left on a traditional three-point play from Maalik Wayns, who got the start.

They kept playing, Wayns said of St. Johns. Theyve got a lot of senior leaders whove been through that. Theyve lost tough games and theyve won tough games. That wasnt anything new to them. They kept a great attitude and put up a good win.

Wayns finished with 19 points, while fellow guard Corey Stokes led the way for Nova with 20 points on 6-for-10 shooting from three-point range.

But that was nothing compared to St. Johns guard Dwight Hardy, who was absolutely sensational for the Red Storm. Hardy finished with 34 points, which included a crucial, off-balance jumper that gave his team a 70-64 lead with 2:20 remaining.

Hardy, whos averaging a team-best 17.3 points per game, shot 9-for-16 from the floor, 5-for-9 from three-point range and 11-for-13 from the foul line.

We tried to trap him, we tried to deny him, we went a little zone, Wright said. Hes just awesome. Hes playing great. And whats really interesting about him is he doesnt turn the ball over. Hes got the ball all the time at the end of the shot clock and he ends the game with one turnover. Hes awesome.

Hes a killer, added Stokes. Coach Wright always tells me, (Corey) Fisher, Maalik, and Cheek to be a killer. Hes a killer.

While the Red Storms leading scorer had a game to remember, Villanovas leading scorer, Corey Fisher, had one hed like to forget. The Cats senior guard mustered just two points, shooting a dreadful 1-for-10 from the field and 0-for-8 from three-point range.

To his credit, Fisher had seven assists to go with one turnover, but his poor shooting performance comes on the heels of a 3-for-16 night against Syracuse on Monday. When asked what was wrong with his star guard, Wright repeated the phrase I dont know three times. But he hopes the shooting slump will end.

The best thing we can do is tell him to keep shooting, Wright said. We have confidence in him. Were going to ride him.

Fisher and Villanova will get a chance for redemption in just two days as the Wildcats take on No. 9 Notre Dame in a Big Monday battle in South Bend. Villanova then has another road game against a Top 10 team next Saturday vs. No. 4 Pitt before the Big East tournament begins.

In other words, things wont get any easier for the slumping 'Cats.

The good thing about the Big East is you get a chance to play Big East teams, Wright said. I would like us to be playing better right now obviously. But I do see a little improvement. I would like to see even more in our next two games, win or lose.
E-mail Dave Zeitlin at djzeitlin@gmail.com

Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

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Drexel's Chris Crawford soaks up tradition at U.S. Open

ERIN, Wis. — The U.S. Open is all about tradition. This week is the 117th playing of golf's national championship and this event more than most celebrates those golfers who play the game as amateurs. 

Soon-to-be Drexel graduate Chris Crawford has been soaking up all the traditions this week at Erin Hills. Playing in his second U.S. Open after qualifying through both local and sectional competition for the second straight year, an extremely difficult feat, the 23-year-old fifth-year senior enjoyed the amateur dinner put on by the tournament organizers with the USGA. Crawford and his fellow amateurs, a stout list including Texas' Scottie Scheffler, who shot 3-under Thursday to seize the early low amateur lead, were celebrated the entire evening — one of Crawford's early highlights in a long week here in Wisconsin. 

Crawford produced a 3-over par 75 Thursday during the first round to tie for 102nd out of a field of 156 players.

"I played OK (Thursday)," Crawford said. "I'm going to take more positives than negatives out of the round. I played really well for 14 holes and just had a few bad swings on the other four holes."

Indeed, Thursday morning started nervously for the former Drexel golf standout. On the opening par-5 first hole, he snap-hooked his drive into the weeds out of bounds to the left, resulting in a double bogey. Three holes later, he chipped one shot over the back of the fourth green and took another double-bogey, placing him 4-over through four holes. 

Although bogeys might keep many of us alive in our weekend matches, it doesn't cut it in a U.S. Open. Crawford responded well in the ensuing 14 holes, going 1-under in that stretch.

Crawford's coach Mike Dynda, who teaches him at LuLu Country Club in Glenside, Pennsylvania, said he makes a big point to prepare Crawford's mind for his big rounds.

"I texted him last night and said, 'When you got to sleep, imagine that you're on the 18th hole and you have a putt for 9-under,'" Dynda said. "It's important to go to sleep and dream like that."

On the other side, Dynda — who taught the golf team at Drexel from 2003-2015 — also told his pupil to stay away from expectations. When you're 23 and you're playing in your second consecutive U.S. Open, one might think it would be easy to get ahead of yourself. Not so with Crawford, according to Dynda.

"I've taught him to not have any expectations for the five years we've been together," Dynda said. 

Crawford had a superstar practice round on Monday, playing with Jordan Spieth, Jim Furyk and Wisconsin's own Steve Stricker.

"It was a lot of fun playing with those guys and just watching them strategize about learning a brand new U.S. Open course," Crawford said. "I think that's the biggest thing I was impressed with, was the way they talked about strategy on this golf course.

"They were all very nice with me and were very specific to ask about me and they wanted to learn a little bit about my life, so I appreciated that."

For Dynda, talking with Furyk brought back a fond memory. Furyk's father, Mike, actually sold Dynda his first set of golf clubs, Tommy Armor 845s, back in Philadelphia years ago. 

With one round in the books and the forecast calling for rain this weekend, Crawford was looking forward to having the proper mentality as he headed into Friday's second round.

"I want to go out there and just not get ahead of myself," Crawford said. "I'm going to think positively and appreciate that I'm playing in the national open."

Crawford teed off at 2:31 p.m. local time off of the 10th hole.

"This week is so cool because I never do something like this," Crawford said. "Playing in front of such large crowds is a treat and I just love the interaction with the fans before and after the rounds as well."

Last year at Oakmont, dozens of friends and family made the drive down the turnpike to see him play in his first U.S. Open. This year, Crawford estimates that he has around 15 friends and family out in the galleries cheering him on. Though coach Dynda caddied last year, those duties have gone to current Drexel golf coach Ben Feld.

It's a party this week of Drexel golf proportions.

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Atlantic 10 reveals 2017-18 schedule pairings

Philadelphia basketball fans will be getting a double dip of one of the Atlantic 10 conference's best rivalries once again next season.

With the league's 18-game regular season format in place for a fourth straight year, it was revealed Wednesday afternoon that Saint Joseph's and La Salle will battle twice — once in North Philly at Tom Gola Arena and a second time at the Hawks' home just off City Line Avenue. Each team in the 14-member conference will play eight teams once and five teams twice.

The full pairings for the Explorers and Saint Joe's are listed here:

La Salle
Home: Dayton, George Mason, St. Bonaventure, VCU, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis
Away: Davidson, Duquesne, George Washington, Richmond, Fordham, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Saint Joseph’s, Saint Louis

Saint Joseph’s
Home: Dayton, Duquesne, Saint Louis, VCU, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure
Away: Davidson, George Washington, Rhode Island, Richmond, Fordham, George Mason, La Salle, Massachusetts, St. Bonaventure

It was also rumored earlier in the day that the Hawks have added a Big Five matchup at Temple for Dec. 9.