Who: Fordham (6-22, 2-11 A-10) at Saint Joseph’s (15-11, 6-7)
When: 7 p.m., Saturday
Where: Hagan Arena
By AARON BRACY
Unbelievably, Saint Joseph’s returns to the court on Saturday night in a fight just to make the Atlantic 10 tournament.
As the choice of the coaches and media in the preseason to finish atop the league, the Hawks (15-11, 6-7 A-10) were thought to be at the very least contenders for the league title.
Now, though, they face Fordham at 7 o’clock Saturday in the first of their three remaining regular-season games with a very real possibility that a season that started with so much hope and promise could end without even a trip to Brooklyn, which is the site of the league’s tourney.
St. Joe’s is in a four-way tie for ninth in the A-10, along with Charlotte, St. Bonaventure and George Washington. Lurking just a game back, with the head-to-head tiebreaker in hand, is Dayton. In all likelihood, Rhode Island, Fordham and Duquesne are going to be three of the four teams sitting at home come conference tourney time, as only 12 of the 16 A-10 teams are eligible.
Dayton holds the fourth and final position of those left out, but the Flyers are riding high after routing Charlotte in Charlotte on Wednesday night. Dayton beat St. Joe’s last month, meaning they’ll head to Brooklyn over the Hawks should the teams finish tied. The Hawks hold a tiebreaker over GW, but lose one against the Bonnies – all based on head-to-head competition.
So, how did the Hawks get here? Three-point shooting for one.
Wednesday’s 70-53 loss at St. Louis was emblematic of St. Joe’s struggles, as the Hawks shot 3-for-17 (17.6 percent) from the arc. Phil Martelli’s squad, which ranks 191st in the country in 3-point percentage (33.6 percent), has struggled shooting the ball all season.
The Hawks haven’t been able to overcome those struggles and rank 11th in the league in scoring (67.3 points per game). With the shots not falling, St. Joe’s hasn’t displayed a reliable transition offense or interior scoring.
They were outscored 34-20 in the paint and had zero fastbreak points against the Billikens.
“We competed, but we didn’t play well enough,” Martelli said afterward, according to the school’s Web site. “Their defense was what I thought it would be but we had no fastbreak points. We’ve got to get our pace back and I thought we were just passive. We prepared the right away but we just played too much sideline to sideline.”
If there is good news for the Hawks, it’s that Fordham is worse offensively than them.
The Rams (6-22, 2-11) are second to last in scoring (64.6 points per game) in the league. Fordham shoots worse from the field, 40.2 percent, and 3-point range (31.7 percent), than St. Joe’s.
-Scouting St. Joe’s: One bright spot for the Hawks this season has been the play of Ronald Roberts. The junior big man set a season high with 25 points Wednesday against the Billikens. He also grabbed seven rebounds and is third in the conference at 8.5 caroms per contest, while leading the A-10 in offensive rebounding at 3.6 offensive boards per game. … On the other hand, Carl “Tay” Jones scored a season-low two points against St. Louis. … Jones still leads the Hawks in scoring at 14.1 points per game, followed by Langston Galloway (13.7), Roberts (11.7) and C.J. Aiken (10.9). … Fordham is the only A-10 team St. Joe’s plays twice this season. The Hawks defeated the Rams 66-62 on Jan. 30 at Rose Hill Gym. … The Hawks’ remaining two games are next Wednesday at home versus Rhode Island and March 9 at Charlotte.
-Scouting Fordham: The perennial A-10 bottom-dwelling Rams have lost eight straight games and 11 of 12. However, they have been competitive in many of those contests, including a 68-63 home loss to Butler on Feb. 16. … Rams star big man Chris Gaston has been hampered by an injured knee this season and has missed 13 games as a result. Gaston is second on the team in scoring, at 14.0 ppg, while leading the Rams in rebounding, at 7.7 rpg. … Junior guard Branden Frazier tops the Rams in scoring, at 14.3 ppg, while freshman Mandell Thomas is a good, young player who averages 9.3 points and shoots 41.3 percent from the arc.
-Sound off: What has been the biggest area of disappointment this season?