Opportunity knocks for St. Joe's

Posted: February 04, 2014

IN LATE JANUARY last year, La Salle was 12-5 and not really in the NCAA conversation. The Explorers promptly beat Butler at home and then won at VCU on the way to winning nine of 11 and pushing right into the at-large pool.

Saint Joseph's is in exactly the same position in early February. The Hawks were 14-6 heading into Saturday's home game with Massachusetts. Like La Salle last year, SJU is looking at opportunity over 8 days, all at home, with games this week against the Atlantic 10's best, Saint Louis and VCU.

The Hawks got the first part of the trifecta, but definitely made it harder than it should have been. They were in complete control for 35 minutes, earning a 16-point halftime lead and never letting UMass closer than seven in the second half.

Until they gave up an 11-point lead in the final minutes, let UMass tie it and then had to win in the final seconds with free throws, 73-68. The Hawks (15-6, 5-2 A-10) burned timeouts because they were having trouble with the pressure, started throwing the ball away, missed free throws and generally made a mess of a game they seemed to own by scoring two points in 10 possessions.

The how is nice to consider, but the bottom line always matters most. And even though UMass (17-4, 4-3) was ranked, this was not an upset. SJU was a slight favorite.

The Hawks got another tremendous performance from Halil Kanacevic (18 points, six rebounds, five assists), who made a critical defensive deflection in the final seconds, and 17 points from Ronald Roberts.

SJU shot 40 free throws to just 20 for UMass, which came back from a big late deficit to beat the Hawks in the league opener. The Minutemen nearly did it again as Chaz Williams (16 points, 10 assists) went crazy during the frantic finish.

UMass has a very nice record, but Saint Louis and VCU are both playing better than the Minutemen at the moment. Saint Louis is 7-0 in the league and VCU is 6-1. All you want in life is an opportunity. St. Joe's has that opportunity this week.

Zack attack

Steve Zack (16 points, 16 rebounds) got his 12th double-double of the season as La Salle beat Duquesne, 71-63, at Gola Arena.

The Explorers (12-9, 4-3 A-10) still are not playing that beautiful brand of offensive basketball they displayed last season. Even though all five starters scored double figures, La Salle shot just 24-for-63 (38.1 percent) and 7-for-27 from three. La Salle was 36th nationally in offensive efficiency last season, 158th this season.

Tryeek Duren has found his shot, but Tyrone Garland, after getting 30 against VCU on Jan. 25, was just 3-for-25 and 0-for-9 in the two games last week.

The Dukes (10-10, 2-5) got 23 from Ovie Soko, but the other four starters were 5-for-24.

Drexel decent in loss

Drexel finally has all available bodies back and playing well. Still, the Dragons desperately miss first-team all-league Damion Lee (ACL) and are that one more star player away from vying for the CAA title.

The Dragons (11-10, 3-5 CAA) were always around at Towson. They were, however, almost always just a little behind and never could get there, losing, 75-73.

The Tigers (14-8, 5-2) shot 57.5 percent, but Drexel, which got 33 off the bench from Tavon Allen (17) and Kazembe Abif (16) and 18 more from senior point guard Frantz Massenat, did not have much of an answer for Jerrelle Benimon (25 points, eight rebounds).

The teams combined to go 47-for-59 from the foul line. It made for a long game and another frustrating result for a Drexel team that is still good enough to have a chance, not quite good enough to take advantage of that chance.

Gets worse for Penn

A night after shooting 51.4 percent and somehow losing at Dartmouth (18 turnovers and just 37 field-goal attempts were the problems), Penn was competitive at Harvard for 10 minutes and then overwhelmed in the final 30 minutes, losing 80-50.

Talk about coming full circle. Harvard (17-3, 4-0 Ivy) has now become the Ivy League standard. Penn (4-13, 1-2) and Princeton (0-3 Ivy) may be out of the race after the first weekend.

This game was over by halftime when Harvard scored 29 of the first half's last 34 points. Penn did not turn it over that much (13 times), but Harvard shot 50 percent and the result was never in doubt once Harvard's offense got in gear.

Email: jerardd@phillynews.com

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