St. Louis will be a challenge for St. Joseph's

MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
MICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer
Posted: February 28, 2013

To hear St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli talk, one would think his team is headed to play the NBA's Miami Heat. Martelli instead was talking about St. Louis, which hosts the Hawks on Wednesday.

St. Louis (21-5) has won nine games in a row and leads the Atlantic Ten Conference with a 10-2 mark.

"This team is playing as well as any A-10 team has ever played, and that includes my great team, [John] Calipari's great [Massachusetts] teams, [and] the George Washington team that won the league and went undefeated," Martelli said.

The St. Joseph's team he was referring to was the 30-2 squad of 2003-04 that advanced to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament.

Martelli made similar comments about St. Louis after Saturday's 71-59 win over George Washington and during Monday's A-10 coaches conference call.

St. Louis is a balanced team and is led in scoring by junior forward Dwayne Evans, who is averaging just 12 points per game.

The Billikens started 1-2 in A-10 play, losing to Temple but also to Rhode Island, which has a 3-10 conference record.

St. Joseph's (15-10, 6-6) has been competitive in most conference games and possesses the ability to beat any team. The problem is that the offense has been inconsistent.

When Langton Galloway is on his game, the Hawks are a different team as evidenced when the junior guard scored a season-high 26 points in Saturday's win.

"A guy like Galloway, he has a quick release. So you like to get [real close] to him. But if you do that, he goes right by you," St. Louis interim head coach Jim Crews said.

Crews has done a remarkable job after taking over under the most difficult of circumstances. He was named interim head coach on Aug. 24 after head coach Rick Majerus took a leave of absence for health reasons. Majerus died on Dec. 1.

Crews said he is impressed by the Hawks, the preseason Atlantic Ten top choice.

"Everyone loved their team in preseason, and I still love their team," he said.

Not as much as Martelli admires St. Louis, a team that is ranked No. 18 in the latest Associated Press top 25 poll.

Rebounding well

No program does a better job year in and year out of circling the wagons than Temple. The Owls (19-8, 8-5 A-10) have bounced back from their worst losses with some of their best wins once again this season.

Following a loss to visiting Canisius, the Owls beat previously unbeaten Syracuse in December. After Duquesne earned its only A-10 win this season by winning at Temple, the Owls have won three in a row against Massachusetts, La Salle, and Charlotte.

"We do have a resiliency about us that is pleasing to watch," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. "But we have other things we would rather not have, [such as] inconsistency not only game to game but possession to possession."

A player who has been especially effective the last three games has been 6-foot-6 senior Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson, who has averaged 13.6 points and 11.3 rebounds in that span.

The Owls' ability to bounce back has prevented any long slumps. Only once have they lost back-to-back games this season, and those defeats were at Kansas and at Xavier, not the easiest places to play.

"The guys don't get down on themselves long and hard and have a tendency to bounce back," Dunphy said.

A new start for Drexel

Drexel has shown it can compete with if not beat the top teams in the Colonial Athletic Association. Last week, the Dragons lost in double overtime at Delaware, 73-71, and at Towson, 72-71. Both teams are 11-5 in CAA action.

Drexel (7-9 CAA) would definitely earn the No. 5 seed in the seven-team tournament by winning one of its final two games, against Old Dominion (2-14 CAA) or UNC Wilmington (5-11).

"We feel we will have new life and a new start," said junior point guard Frantz Massenat, who is averaging 14.5 points and 4.2 assists. "Everybody starts out the same in the postseason."

Tough loss

Villanova's argument for an NCAA bid took a hit with Monday's loss at Seton Hall. Seton Hall entered with a nine-game losing streak. Villanova (18-11, 9-7 Big East) could have assured itself a winning conference record with a victory.

What Villanova will lament most was its three-point field goal defense. The Pirates shot 13 for 21 from beyond the arc (61.9 percent).

This loss replaces the two three-point defeats to Providence as the most crushing of the season.

One game at a time

La Salle (19-7) hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 1991-92, and coach John Giannini concedes that all the talk about a potential bid is difficult to block out.

"The best way I can put it is that it is in the back of your mind," he said. "When we practice, the focus is on the next opponent."

The Explorers have done a good job staying focused and haven't lost consecutive games this season.

Developing freshman

It's been a difficult season for Penn (7-19), a young team with no seniors. One of the bright spots has been 6-11 freshman Darien Nelson-Henry, who is averaging 7.6 points and 4.0 rebounds. Nelson-Henry didn't see much action early in the season but got more of a chance after 6-8 Fran Dougherty was sidelined with mononucleosis. Dougherty since suffered a season-ending elbow injury.

"We had great expectations for him, and to his credit he has responded to coaching and is a terrific young man who is all about the team," coach Jerome Allen said. "He wants to be coached and pushed, and the next three years are going to be fantastic with him - his size, his ability to pass the ball and contribute in a variety of ways."

Contact Marc Narducci at Follow

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