St. Joe's seeing bubble

Posted: March 11, 2014

SAINT JOSEPH'S picked a bad time to have its first two-game losing streak in just over 3 months.

La Salle, meanwhile, picked the best time to come up with maybe its top effort of the season.

A win would have gone a long way toward securing the Hawks' (21-9, 11-5 Atlantic 10) first NCAA bid since 2008. Now they're back on the bubble, after closing out the regular season by losing to the Explorers (15-15, 7-9) at Hagan Arena, 71-63. That means they might have to win another game or two at the conference tournament, which begins Wednesday in Brooklyn. They'll go there as the four seed instead of the two. But they still get a bye into Friday's quarterfinals, where they'll draw Dayton (22-9, 10-6), George Mason (11-19, 4-12) or Fordham (9-20, 2-14).

La Salle will play in Thursday's opening round in the 8-9 matchup with St. Bonaventure (16-14, 6-10). The teams split, with each winning at home.

"For a long stretch we were one of the better teams in the Atlantic 10," said St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli, whose team had lost at George Washington on Wednesday. "We haven't been this week."

Yesterday, the Hawks took a 16-10 lead, at which point Langston Galloway had made four three-pointers. But he wouldn't score again for 18 minutes. And he would make only two more field goals, one from the arc. That's because La Salle threw a box-and-one and other assorted zones into the game plan.

"It was ingenious, really," Martelli conceded. "I apologized to my team for not having them ready. I didn't see it coming.

"For the first time in my time here Senior Day was too emotional for some of them."

The Explorers were up 10 at the half. St. Joe's scored the first seven coming out of the locker room, but the visitors answered with a 9-0 run and the closest the Hawks got after that was seven. Tyreek Duren made 12 of 13 free throws in the final 3 minutes, 11 seconds.

"Coach [John Giannini] is always telling me late in the game to go get the ball, no matter what's going on," said Duren, who finished with a season-high 27 points, two off his career best. "They have confidence that I'll make the right play at that moment . . .

"The team we've got can beat any team [in the A-10] on any given day, if we play like we did today."

A year ago, of course, they got into the field for the first time in forever and wound up in the Sweet 16.

"You can't want to win any more than these kids do," said Giannini, whose team has won three of its last four after losing five in a row (and eight of nine) before that. "We've maintained our motivation, in spite of a lot of disappointment, done a good job of focusing on the here and now. The past doesn't matter.

"We're three stops away from being 10-6 in the Atlantic 10. Then we'd be on the bubble. We went 7-1 last year in games that came down to the last play. People think there's a gigantic difference between a 15-win season and a 20-win season. The difference is tiny.

"It's a new season. If they weren't frustrated, there's something wrong with their heads. This is the most important part of the season. It's a magic time of year, what you look forward to. What gets your head right more than anything is success."

St. Joe's turned it over 14 times, 10 in the first half, when they also shot 4-for-15 from two. And when they were trying to make a run in the second half the Hawks missed way too many free throws, including the front ends of two 1-and-1s. Galloway matched Duren's 27, going 8-for-8 from the foul line. His teammates were 4-for-14. DeAndre Bembry scored 15, Ronald Roberts (1-for-5 on freebies) 13. Halil Kanacevic had six points on eight shots, 12 rebounds and four turnovers.

"We were squeezing the ball so hard, trying to hit a home run," said Martelli, whose team beat the Explorers, 75-64, at 20th and Olney last month. "We were off. The way we've been successful is to have everyone pulling in the same direction. We didn't have that. We were bumping along, trying to find one more spark. The way you honor your [seniors] is to play your best game of the year and get a win.

"I appreciated the crowd, with our students being off. I'm sorry we disappointed the people."

La Salle, which had dropped its final home game on Thursday at the end to George Mason, got its first back-to-back road wins since early January. Big man Jerrell Wright had 14 of his 17 points in the second half, when he shot 5-for-8. He also had a dozen boards.

"I played within the offense," he said. "They had confidence in me. Coach told me when I get the ball to take my time."

Martelli was asked if he knew what his team needed to do to convince the Selection Committee that it should be part of the field.

"I have no idea," he said. "Some people think I do nothing but talk to [ESPN Bracketologist and St. Joe radio analyst] Joe Lunardi hourly. I don't . . .

"We're down on the mat. We have to pick ourselves up on Tuesday [at practice] and get back to it."

At this point, what else is there?

On Twitter: @mikekerndn

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