WHEN THE DECISION was made after last season to do a complete makeover on Hawk Hill, the results this season were nearly inevitable. Unless you are Kentucky and can replace one freshman class of McDonald's All-Americans with another, you will not win with freshmen in key spots. And Saint Joseph's is decidedly not Kentucky.
Last night's final home game of the season was a test of where the young Hawks are and where they might be going. Richmond starts four seniors, including the 2009-10 Atlantic 10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson and Justin Harper, a player so talented that several NBA scouts were at Hagan Arena. The Hawks, as they have most of the season, started three freshmen, a sophomore and senior Idris Hilliard, who was honored in a pregame ceremony with fellow senior Charoy Bentley.
It took 30 minutes until the obvious on paper became just as obvious on the scoreboard. The Spiders took a one-point lead with 10 minutes left and went on to a 69-54 win. Anderson took over the game in the second half. He scored two in the first half, 20 in the second.
"In the second half, Anderson showed you why he's the reigning Player of the Year and Harper is the possible Player of the Year for this season," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said.
Looked like business as usual when the Spiders started the game 4-for-5 from the field and led, 9-2. But they seemed to zone out against a variety of SJU defenses, making only three of their next 22 shots, almost hard to believe for the league's best-shooting team.
Richmond led just 20-19 at the half. It was the fewest points the Spiders have scored in a half this season. Harper and Anderson were 3-for-13 at the break. St. Joe's two top scorers, Tay Jones and Langston Galloway, were 2-for-11. The teams combined to attempt 53 shots in the half and miss 36 of them.
"I thought we could have had a workable margin in the first half had we made our free throws and not turned the ball over," Martelli said. "They took 31 shots, we took 22 in the first half."
The Hawks (8-21, 3-12 A-10) hung for those 30 minutes and then hit the wall. Or Richmond (23-7, 12-3) just started to assert its will. Or both. After that 20-point half, the Spiders went for 49 in the second. They were 2-for-10 from the arc in the first, 5-for-6 in the second.
Harper finished 16 points and nine rebounds. Springfield Delco's Dan Geriot had 14 points, six rebounds and five assists. Jones had 18 for the Hawks. Those are numbers from last night. The big picture is still a bit fuzzy.
For the second consecutive season, St. Joe's final regular-season game will determine whether it is also its final game this season. Last year, the Hawks beat La Salle at Hagan and got into the A-10 Tournament as the 12th seed. Saturday afternoon, they will play at Charlotte. The loser's season will be over. St. Joe's will fly home Saturday night looking forward to a game on Tuesday or next season's opener.
"The difference is road vs. home," Martelli said of the final-game scenario. "I have to study Charlotte through the night to get a feel for what's going to work."
The season been especially long for Hilliard, who was a freshman on the 2008 NCAA Tournament team. He will finish his Hawks career on consecutive 20-loss teams.
"It's tough," Hilliard said. "Nobody wants to go out being a loser. We had a rough season all year. I don't even know what to say. Nobody wants to go out like this, but there's nothing I can do about it now."
There is Saturday's "playoff" game, Hilliard noted.
Martelli continues to try to find positives, noting that when these Richmond seniors were freshmen, St. Joe's had the older team and the better team. Richmond coach Chris Mooney was there for that. He has now seen these young Hawks twice in person this season.
"They have some really good young players, athletic, talented," Mooney said. "It's just a matter of gaining the experience. You can't do it unless you experience it. These guys are on their way to being really, really good."
This game wasn't all that complicated.
"In the second half, they played better than we played," Martelli said.
After a terrific offensive performance in Saturday's Hawks win over St. Bonaventure, this was decidedly not like that.
"We came off a game where we shot 61 percent, and tonight we missed layups," Martelli said. "Obviously, it's back to the drawing board."
It is about consistency. And these Hawks are not there, not close to there yet. They have 2 days to get ready for Charlotte.