Hawks prepare for NIT

St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli. (Steven M. Falk/Staff Photographer)

St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli isn’t looking at his team’s second straight NIT appearance as a way to prepare for next year.

At 18-13, Martelli sees the NIT as an opportunity to improve now. “It’s a chance to win a game against great competition,” he said.

The Hawks will host St. John’s (16-15) in a 7 p.m. matchup Tuesday at Hagan Arena.

“It’s a chance to play an iconic school, one that is very talented,” Martelli said.

The Hawks had an up and down regular season, but showed some spark in the Atlantic Ten Tournament. After an opening 58-57 win over Xavier, the Hawks were eliminated, 82-79 by VCU.

In that game, St. Joseph’s played hard to the end, outscoring the Rams 22-10 in the final two minutes. VCU led by 10 points at halftime and its lead was never seriously threatened despite the late run that included a Papa Ndao three-pointer at the buzzer.

Still it bodes well that the Hawks have continued to compete hard, even though this was a season in which an NCAA bid was expected.

As for St. John’s, this has been a disappointing season with a young team. Sophomore guard D’Angelo Harrison, who led the team in scoring with a 17.8 average, was suspended for the rest of the year with three games left in the regular season for conduct detrimental to the team.

JaKarr Sampson, a 6-8 freshman, averages 14.8 points for the Red Storm.

“They are a team that likes to take it to the basket because without (Harrison) they don’t shoot many three’s,” Martelli said.

This season Harrison connected on 58 three-point field goals and the rest of the team had just 57.

Last season the Hawks lost a first-round 67-65 NIT game at Hagan Arena to Northern Iowa. Now St. Joseph’s is in again and looks to make the most of its second season.