A St. Joseph’s University staffer walked into the room where Hawks coach Phil Martelli holds his postgame news conferences.
“I think he’s going to be a couple of minutes,’’ the staffer said. “Chris just got back in.”
Hawks senior Chris Clover, who had scored 18 points and hit a game-winning three for the last of them, was delayed by ESPNU, stretching out its postgame telecast to fit the two-hour viewing slot by interviewing the star of the night.
The St. Joe’s locker room is down a short hallway from the news-conference room. As soon as the staffer mentioned the delay, a roar came from down the hall. Clover had gotten in there.
If you saw the celebration at the end of a 61-60 victory over Davidson, you might have thought the Hawks had won some kind of championship.
It might have been bigger than that.
When a season hasn’t gone at all the way you expected, walls closing in, two of your most important players now gone because of injury, was this season-on-the-brink stuff?
Davidson had shown up at Hawk Hill on Tuesday night 3-0 in the Atlantic 10, 12-4 overall. But what difference are records supposed to make to the Hawks? Their problems seemed separate from the ability of an opponent. Getting stomped late at home by George Mason and George Washington to start the A-10 season, getting stomped from the start at St. Bonaventure.
At Duquesne, there was a one-point loss, and a season-ending knee injury to Pierfrancesco Oliva and a fractured hand suffered by team heartbeat Fresh Kimble.
What now? Who knew?
“It’s a just a step, it’s the next …’’ Martelli said. “It’s a small step. When you’re down and out, and you’ve been body-slammed, we picked ourselves up and took a small step.”
Small steps obviously can be important steps.
“What word do you want to use?’’ Martelli said of how St. Joe’s had played to start the league season. “Shocking, stunning. Knock you to your knees. Knock you down, but it never knocked us out. It never knocked any of us out. But it was a bear. I mean, it was a bear trying to come every day and think, ‘What would it be?’ This is going to sound insane. It is insane, to say it …”
He started talking about the second half of the Bonnies game. By his definition, it’s insane to think how the second half of a game in which they were losing 39-12 at halftime could be important to righting things.
“We got 35 in a half,’’ Martelli explained. “There was something, like, God bless us, the ball went in a couple of times.”
Martelli started talking about the rest of last week, how the trip to Duquesne obviously wasn’t like a class trip — it was hard. Friday, a terrific practice in Pittsburgh. Saturday, for a large part, the Hawks played well, he said.
“We also have to acknowledge, we were up 15 in the first half,’’ Martelli said. “If you’re playing downhill and you’re playing with a swagger, maybe 15 goes to 21. But right now, we’re hoping that something good happens. That team right there …”
He meant Davidson.
“They’re averaging 63 in the Atlantic 10 but they were 3-0, because they knew something good would happen,’’ Martelli said. “They held VCU eight minutes without a field goal. They were down in the last two minutes to Duquesne. But they believed something good would happen. We’re not there.”
He thought back to how St. Joe’s had started the season 3-0. Wake Forest is a middling team this year, less than middling in the ACC, but it was still a legit neutral-court win.
“We lost to Central Florida. The next day, we gathered to prepare for West Virginia — it was absolutely like the season had ended,’’ Martelli said. “I was stunned by their reaction. I took it to say, ‘OK, good. They’re not satisfied, right?’ "
Then the Hawks lost, 97-90, to West Virginia.
“You know what, a couple of things here, a couple of things there,’’ Martelli said, saying all this because nobody saw what was coming.
“Then plus-20 to William & Mary and we lose — and I didn’t address it as like, this is a gut check. That’s what it’s been,’’ Martelli said. “Like a small hole in a balloon.”
He can’t explain the first four Atlantic 10 games, Martelli said.
“You know what, so I’ll say, my fault,’’ he continued. “Something that I missed. I don’t know what it is, but the ball didn’t go in the basket, across the board.”
Watching the last Davidson possession, St. Joseph’s defending as if a season were on the line, you got the feeling some Hawks player might literally throw up on the court if a Davidson shot went down, as rebounds kept bouncing the way of the visitors, the clock taking its time running out.
“I took that upon myself. I told the guys like, ‘I got him,’ " Clover said of guarding Davidson star Kellan Grady, who had tough angles on two of the three Davidson shots taken in the last eight seconds.
When a last fadeaway didn’t fall, Hawks fans could go back to talking about what never dies, but basketballs don’t bounce in or out based on mantras.