St. Joe's Outlook: Time for Hawks to put up

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St. Joe's Outlook: Time for Hawks to put up

Enough with the projections and proclamations. Phil Martelli wants results.

“We’re not selling anything to the fans,” the Saint Joseph’s head coach said recently during the team’s annual media day. “We have to be about it, not talk about it.”

St. Joe’s was picked first in last season’s Atlantic 10 preseason poll only to finish 10th in the conference and stumble to an 18-14 record. The Hawks were denied an NCAA tournament berth for the fifth straight year and ended their campaign with a first-round exit in the NIT.

With last season’s disappointment in the rearview, St. Joe’s has its sights set on some familiar achievements for 2013-14.

“The first goal is that we want to win the A-10, too,” forward Halil Kanacevic said. “We’ve been here four years. We haven’t won the A-10 either. Got picked first last year and it didn’t turn out that way at the end. I think our first goal should be for the A-10, but the NCAA tournament, that’s something you really want to say that we obviously want to make it.”

Perhaps not what you might expect to hear from a squad that lost two veteran starters from a year ago. However, the Hawks appear to be in a rare situation when they might see some addition by subtraction.

The departures of trigger-happy point guard Carl Jones and passive big man C.J. Aiken could actually be a benefit on the court. The Hawks still return starters Langston Galloway (13.8 points per game last season) along with Ronald Roberts Jr. (11.2 points, 8.3 rebounds) and Kanacevic (8.5 points, 7.2 rebounds) in the frontcourt. Also back are spot starter Chris Wilson, and contributors Daryus Quarles, Papa Ndao and Isaiah Miles.

Throw in redshirt freshmen Javon Baumann and Kyle Molock with expected impact true freshmen DeAndre Bembry (6-6, 195) on the wing and Jai Williams (6-9, 275) down low, and the Hawks not only have a solid roster but also what they say is even better chemistry.

“This team has a sense of purpose and that purpose is to leave a mark,” Martelli said.

“We have a good group,” Kanacevic said. “Most coaches will say we’ve got a good group of kids. But, honestly, this is my fifth year of college and I haven’t been with a team like this with a group of guys that get along so well and actually like each other genuinely. It’s a genuine feel.

Some of that bond can be traced back to how the Hawks stood by Martelli during a trying offseason. The Atlantic 10’s longest-tenured head coach lost his sister to heart failure, his sister-in-law to cancer and watched his mother suffer a broken hip during a fall.

Not to mention his son Jimmy Martelli resigned from his job as an assistant at Rutgers for involvement in the Mike Rice scandal of verbally and physically abusing players.

All of that is certainly enough to break a man, but Martelli had the support of his SJU family.

“Really, the body blows that came after that in my personal life never gave me cause to say, ‘Oh well. This is harder to deal with than basketball.’ I don’t deal with it that way,” Martelli said. “In the spring I let the coaches do a lot of the individual instruction and kind of focused myself in recruiting.

“I go back to the quality of people that we have on this team. They picked me up. They got me going again.”

“Not giving him much headaches,” Kanacevic said of how the Hawks helped Martelli. “We knew he had a tough loss. Time to try to make it easy on him.”

The Hawks made things easy on Martelli by keeping their focus in the gym. Thanks to an exhibition tour in Italy during August, St. Joe’s got in 10 full offseason practices before heading for its first overseas trip since 1999. The Hawks went a perfect 4-0 on the trip.

“It was good. We definitely went over there and did what our expectations were as far as winning the games,” Galloway said. “We played good.”

“Italy was definitely a great experience,” Roberts said. “The young guys got a chance to play against older people, against grown men. So it gives them kind of a head start.”

“It definitely helped,” Kanacevic said. “You see a different culture, you bond, you meet new people.”

The trip also served as a testing ground for SJU’s new style of play. After averaging just 67.4 points per game (12th out of 16 A-10 schools), the Hawks are looking to run, run and run some more this season.

“Just up-tempo this year, more up-tempo. Getting up and down [the court],” Galloway said of the Hawks, who averaged 95.2 points per game during their four games in Italy.

St. Joe’s knows it must get its offensive attack together before it embarks on a challenging nonconference schedule and tough A-10 slate.

“Our schedule measures up again if you want to take the experts and the Atlantic 10 numbers. They based it on last year’s RPI. We have the No. 2 strength of schedule,” Martelli said. “ESPN ranks it the No. 2 schedule in the Atlantic 10 and I’m proud of that fact.”

Still, no matter who stands in their way, the Hawks feel they must accomplish their ultimate objective of getting back in the Big Dance.

“I’ve never been there, so I feel like we have to get there,” Roberts said. “There’s no other route. We have to get to the NCAA tournament.”

La Salle suffers demoralizing loss to struggling UMass

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La Salle suffers demoralizing loss to struggling UMass

AMHERST, Mass. -- Zach Lewis scored a career-high 37 points, including six three-pointers, and Massachusetts pulled away from La Salle 84-71 on Sunday to snap a three-game losing streak.

Lewis, whose 37-point effort was the best for any player in the Atlantic 10 this season, hit nine of his 16 field goal attempts overall and was a perfect 13-for-13 at the free throw line. Dejon Jarreau added 20 points and four three-ponters for UMass (14-15, 4-12).

Pookie Powell hit five 3-pointers and scored 24 points, and B.J. Johnson added 20 points to lead La Salle (14-13, 8-8).

Both teams shot similar percentages and had similar three-point totals, but the Minutemen finished with a plus-14 advantage at the free throw line.

La Salle remained within striking distance but a 13-4 stretch for UMass midway through the second half pushed its lead to 63-51. The Minutemen kept the Explorers at arm's length the rest of the way.

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Eric Paschall's game rounding out when Villanova needs it most

Those on the outside are now starting to see what those on the inside of Villanova basketball program have seen for the last year and a half.

Eric Paschall can play.

Paschall on Saturday had the biggest game of his career -- at least his Villanova career -- with 19 points, six rebounds and two steals in the Wildcats’ Big East-clinching win over Creighton at the Pavilion.

With Darryll Reynolds sidelined since early February with a rib injury, the Fordham transfer has been starting and playing at a high level. But he was at his best Saturday when his team needed him the most.

Paschall was essentially a guard at Fordham, but with Reynolds out and Omari Spellman forced to sit out the year, Paschall has been playing a lot of the 5 for Villanova, and against Creighton, he effectively neutralized 6-foot-11 Blue Jays center Justin Patton, who managed just four points -- 9½ below his average.

"He's getting better, that's the biggest thing," teammate Josh Hart said of Paschall. "He's down there battling with Patton, a 7-footer, he's down there battling with 6-10, 6-11 guys just about every night, and he's battling and battling and we just tell him, keep working like that. That's more important to us than him going out there scoring 20.

"We know he's talented enough to score 20, you saw that (Saturday), but the way he's battling and the way he's not being frustrated and just keeps getting better, for us that's the best part."

Paschall averaged 15.9 points and 5.8 rebounds per game two years ago for the Rams, earning Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year honors.

He was one of only three NCAA Division I freshmen who averaged at least 15.9 points and 5½ rebounds per game. The others were D'Angelo Russell of Ohio State and Jahlil Okafor of Duke, who are both now double-digit scorers in the NBA.

But to play at Villanova, you have to play defense, and that's where Paschall has shown the most improvement.

"Eric is developing as a Villanova basketball player defensively in terms of executing far better than anyone knows," coach Jay Wright said. "We know. When he's in the game, we are executing at a high level. We're just starting to see what he can do offensively, but in our program, you've got to be able to (play defense) first and he's been doing that all year.

"(He's) getting better and better, and today you just saw a glimpse of what you'll probably see next year, but you've got to get the basics down first, which he's done an incredible job of this year. It's like I tell you with Dante (DiVincenzo), these guys play against him in practice, they're not surprised when they see him do that, but I know everybody else is because they don't get to see it all the time."

It's not easy to transfer into a new program and get used to new players, a new coach, a new system, a new philosophy.

"It was a process," Paschall said. "The biggest thing was getting used to what they wanted, and that's defense and rebounding. That took some getting used to, but once I understood what they were looking for from me and what they wanted me to do, that just made it easy.

"The guys welcomed me with open arms. It's a brotherhood here and we're all brothers and they made me feel like I was a part of it from Day 1. It can be hard sometimes as a transfer coming in, but they made it easy. It's just a matter of focusing on my job."

Overall, Paschall is averaging 7.1 points and 3.8 rebounds per game and shooting 50 percent from the field in an average of 21 minutes a night. But during these last five starts, he's 21 for 32 from the field (66 percent) and is averaging 9.8 points per game.

"Eric, he came in knowing what coach wanted, knowing what coach’s philosophy is and how coach wants things, and he's come and in done what's expected," Jalen Brunson said.

'He's done a great job for us and we're extremely confident in him. It's hard coming in front a different school, coming in and learning a new system, learning the philosophy, but he's done a good job."

Paschall can play the 2 through the 5, so he gives Wright a lot of versatility.

His 19 points Saturday were his most as a Wildcat and his most in any game since he scored 21 for Fordham vs. George Mason on Feb. 18, 2015.

When asked about his role, he just pointed at Hart and Kris Jenkins.

"Just listen to these guys, making sure I have my head clear every game," he said. "They do a great job of telling me what to do during the games and having my attitude right during the games so I can just go out there play hard, play together, play smart, and that’s what I'm trying to do."

As thin as Villanova is -- Wright has played just six guys in his regular rotation since Reynolds got hurt -- Paschall has been a life-saver.

It's hard not to imagine how talented Villanova will be next year with Spellman, Paschall, Mikal Bridges, Phil Booth, Brunson and DiVincenzo.

But first, there's a game Saturday against Georgetown, the Big East Tournament in New York and then the NCAA Tournament.

"We see him getting better every day with his decision making," Hart said of Paschall. "Last year he definitely kicked our butt a lot when he was on the scout team.

"One thing we always had a question about was how was he going to fit in with just playing hard the way we play defense, and he's doing the best job, and he keeps getting better, and seeing him develop and seeing him grow has been amazing. Looking forward to seeing what he's going to do in the future."