It’s not too dramatic to suggest that St. Joseph’s saved its basketball season with Wednesday’s 77-63 win over Dayton at Hagan Arena.
The Hawks had been reeling, having lost three in a row and five of seven and they had to take on a team that entered the evening as the first place team in the Atlantic-10.
Sophomore Ronald Roberts was sensational with a career-high 27 points. He scored the final 15 for the Hawks.
Yet what truly ignited the 50-31 second half advantage and gave the Hawks that needed spring in their step was the defensive play of C.J Aiken.
It’s not just that the nation’s second leading shot blocker added five more to his total, but the rejections, including two during an 11-0 run that gave the Hawks the lead for good, ignited the offense.
It got the Hawks running.
“We have to play quicker,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said the day after the win.
Martelli wasn’t in much of a celebratory mood and for good reason. The Hawks (13-8 overall, 3-3 A-10) have to visit a Temple team on Saturday that is up to business as usual which means getting sharp for a likely NCAA bid.
The Owls (14-5, 3-2) are coming off Wednesday’s 79-57 win at Charlotte. That’s the same Charlotte team that went into Hagan Arena and beat St. Joseph’s, 57-52 on Jan. 7.
“The wins they have are so impressive that you are talking about a postseason team that is going to be difficult to beat,” Martelli said of the Owls.
The Owls are 2-0 against the ACC with wins over Duke and Maryland.
Martelli says that Temple’s 72-67 win at St. Louis is highly underrated.
“A very tough place to play,” Martelli said.
Of course Temple also lost at home to the same Dayton team that St. Joseph’s beat, so knocking off the Owls is a possible.
Had St. Joseph’s not stopped its skid on Wednesday, winning on Saturday would have been even more of a monumental challenge.
“It would have been really difficult,” Martelli said.
Not impossible, but few would have liked the Hawks chances.
Now the Hawks enter the game with much more confidence instead of a four-game losing streak. It’s a big difference.
Instead of picking up his team emotionally, Martelli can focus on the matter at hand, attempting to stop the likes of Ramone Moore (17.2 ppg.), Khalif Wyatt (16.3 ppg.) and point guard Juan Fernandez (11.5 ppg. 4.3 assists per game).
“I think Temple plays what I consider an appealing style of basketball,” Martelli said. “They are well aware of their strength and their strength is in their balance.”
For the Hawks to win, they have to have the same type of effort from their frontcourt as they did against Dayton.
Roberts, who is the sixth man, along with Halil Kanacevic and Aiken, combined for 54 points, including 40 after intermission.
Despite that impressive final 20 minutes, the Hawks are clearly the underdogs against Temple and they have to show they can win in a tough road environment, even though the travel won’t be more than a short bus ride.
St. Joseph’s is 2-6 on the road.
Yet had the Hawks not won at home on Wednesday, navigating their way on the road at Temple, would have seemed insurmountable.
That’s because Temple isn’t the type of team an opponent looks to pick itself up emotionally against.
Winning with confidence against Temple is hard enough, but it sure beats the alternative, which the Hawks would have faced had they not defeated Dayton on Wednesday.