Entering a game against a first place team, St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli had been talking about how his team has lost its way lately.
And who could argue?
The Hawks had dropped three in a row, five of seven, and didn’t have that bounce in the step that characterized their play for the first month of the season.
At least for one night, or more specifically one half, the Hawks certainly found their way.
St. Joseph’s used a 50-31 second half margin in Wednesday’s 77-63 win over Dayton at energized Hagan Arena.
This was not just any win. It came over a Dayton team that is now 14-6 overall and 4-2 in the Atlantic-10. The Flyers entered the evening as the leaders in the A-10 and had just come off a monster victory over Xavier.
While the career-high 27 points of Ronald Roberts had a lot to do with giving the Hawks arguably their biggest win of the season, it was the defense that turned things around.
C.J. Aiken had five blocked shots, including two during an 11-0 run that turned a 43-39 deficit into a 50-39 lead early in the second half and changed the game around.
Aiken altered several shots as well and those blocks helped the Hawks get into their transition game and when they are running, they are usually winning.
“We needed to play with that energy, have plays where people will say ‘did you see what happened on that play,’” coach Phil Martelli said.
Those were certainly the questions being asked after several of Aiken’s rejections.
“Coach said I had to block the lane and I hadn’t been doing that lately,” Aiken said.
He did it against Dayton.
And then there was the play of Roberts, who was 10 for 11 from the field and 7 for 9 from the foul line. For good measure, he scored the Hawks final 15 points.
“He was amazing,” Aiken said. “I have never seen him like that.”
More than the points, was the confidence that a win like this gives Roberts and his teammates.
“It does a lot,” Roberts said. “We know we can beat anybody. If we can beat the first place team we can beat any team.”
That is true.
St. Joseph’s (13-8, 3-3) is good enough to beat anybody and also capable of losing to anybody. The margin for error is small with so many talented teams in the A-10.
The Hawks desperately needed a win like this to stop the collective bleeding, regain the confidence and now move on.
It’s just one win and the Hawks won’t be celebrating for long, having to travel to Temple on Saturday. Yet for one night, St. Joseph’s found its way and from their perspective it couldn’t have come against a better opponent or at a more opportune time.