Where is Saint Joseph’s headed in a crowded, competitive conference it was picked in the preseason to win? Five games into the Hawks’ Atlantic 10 schedule, Phil Martelli still doesn’t know.
On Saturday, just three days after a sluggish, disappointing home loss to St. Bonaventure, Martelli’s Hawks stifled a solid Xavier team late and made clutch three-pointers to beat the Musketeers, 59-49, for the first time since March 2008 (see Instant Replay).
“What we want to do is get to the halfway point, eight games,” Martelli said of St. Joe’s A-10 slate. “And at the halfway point, in all leagues, you decide: Are you real or are you fake? I still don’t know that. We’ll know when our record is at eight games. If the Atlantic 10 tournament started today, we’d be collecting uniforms. [The players] know that.”
Not entirely accurate. St. Joe’s impressive win against Xavier at Hagan Arena improved the Hawks to 11-7 and 2-3 in the A-10, good enough for 12th in a conference that sends 12 teams to its postseason tournament. Xavier, which had beaten St. Joe’s four straight times by an average of 21 points before Saturday, falls to 11-8 and 4-2 in the A-10. A Musketeers win would have put them atop the conference.
For the Hawks it was a double-digit victory, but only because they scored the game’s final 12 points. From 13:59 of the second half until Langston Galloway’s fifth three of the contest with 1:01 remaining, neither team led by more than four points.
“It was a hard-compete game,” Martelli said. “I think a really big deal is not fouling, just not fouling. [Xavier] got extra points on put-backs, and there wasn’t a lot of transition in the game.”
There wasn’t much at all. The teams combined for just two fast-break points. St. Joe’s was outrebounded by 11, outscored in the paint by 20 and shot just 29 percent in the second half.
But playing defense without fouling made the Hawks’ late heroics possible. The Musketeers attempted just four free throws in the second half, seven fewer than St. Joe’s. It also helped that Xavier missed all seven second-half threes and went a pitiful 1 for 13 from distance.
Still, St. Joe’s nearly let yet another second-half lead disappear. The Hawks, who have been up in the second half in 16 of their last 21 losses, had a scoring drought of 15 possessions spanning nearly nine minutes that gave Xavier serious momentum and its largest lead of the game six minutes into the second half. From the 2:32 mark of the first half until just under 14 minutes remained, the Hawks went 0 for 10 from the field and committed five turnovers.
“We have to clean up these starts of the second half. To [Xavier], we lost 7-0 and the ball started to get heavy in our hands,” Martelli said. “You could see a little bit of doubt and question."
St. Joe’s didn’t seize control until it fell down, 49-47. With 3:25 to play, Carl Jones hit a three to put the Hawks ahead, and Galloway followed up with back-to-back triples of his own. Mixed in were two forced Xavier turnovers and one of St. Joe's nine blocks.
It was a volatile night for Galloway, who is shooting 41 percent from three a year after leading the A-10 at 47.4 percent. He made three of his first four threes, then missed his next four and was held scoreless for 26 minutes and 27 seconds. But the last two deep attempts were the most important, and he sank them both.
“It had been the same shot the whole game, it just wasn’t falling,” Galloway said. “But I got it to go in with the last two. Gotta have a short memory as a shooter, can’t even worry about it. I was as confident as I was with the first one.”
Galloway remarked that St. Joe’s journey to this point has taken a bit of a toll on himself and his teammates. The Hawks were picked by league coaches and media to win the Atlantic 10 but have alternated wins and losses since before conference play even began.
Through 18 games and five in the conference, it is unclear if St. Joe’s can consistently be the team that pushed Butler and VCU to the brink and beat a ranked Notre Dame earlier in the year, or the team that lost at home to St. Bonaventure and Fairfield.
With three of their next four games on the road, the Hawks can do a lot to answer those questions before Valentine’s Day.
“Is this a statement?” Martelli asked rhetorically of the win over Xavier. “No, it’s not a statement. Wednesday wasn’t a statement [either]. People could have walked out of here Wednesday and said that was a statement ... that this team gave up.
“It’s only important if Monday we’re better than we were today. That’s the only thing that makes it important.”