Who: Rhode Island (8-19, 3-11) at Saint Joseph’s (16-11, 7-7)
Where: Hagan Arena
When: 7 p.m. Wednesday
By AARON BRACY
With two games left in the regular season, Saint Joseph’s hasn’t given up hope of fulfilling its preseason hopes.
Phil Martelli’s squad looked like an NCAA tournament team in November when predictions were made. The Hawks continued to look that way when the games started. Slowly, but surely, though, St. Joe’s played its way out of the NCAA tournament conversation, causing disappointment inside and outside of the program.
Martelli, though, has implored his players to focus not on what has happened already, but what still can happen. St. Joe’s still can play its way into the NCAA tournament by winning the Atlantic 10 tournament next weekend. It’s unlikely but not impossible, particularly if the pieces come together like many – including those who picked the Hawks to win the league in the preseason – thought they would.
First, though, St. Joe’s must qualify for the 12-team A-10 field. The Hawks would clinch a spot in Brooklyn with a win in one of its two final regular-season games, the first of which comes Wednesday night when A-10 also-ran Rhode Island visits Hagan Arena at 7 o’clock.
“What we’ve talked to them the last 10 or 12 days was eyes ahead,” Martelli said on his radio show on Monday night. “Stop turning around, stop looking around. If a family member’s asking what’s wrong, (say) we’re going to be better than today. We and I only look at it like what do we have to do tomorrow to be better than today.”
The Hawks, playing without big man C.J. Aiken, looked better in Saturday’s 82-56 rout of Fordham. Granted, it was Fordham. But this was a Rams team that played the Hawks to the wire four weeks earlier in the Bronx.
The win left Martelli feeling good, particularly the performance of Carl “Tay” Jones, who scored 24 points and played more like a high-level guard the coach expects. Martelli also likes the way his team has stuck together in spite of a season that, to this point, has fallen short of expectations.
“They look around the room and they trust each other because there hasn’t been any finger pointing,” he said. “I appreciate it that they’re looking at it like tomorrow has to be better than today. And that’s really the foundation of the program.”
In Rhode Island, the Hawks will face a team that is rebuilding under first-year coach Dan Hurley. The Rams have just three league wins, but have played teams tough. They led at halftime in each of their last five games, and defeated St. Louis at St. Louis – one of just two league losses for the Billikens.
“They are all in,” Martelli said. “I’m not making them out to be the Miami Heat but they are not an eight-win team coming in here.”
The Hawks will have to contend with junior guard Xavier Munford, who scored 30 in Saturday’s loss at Temple and is second in the league in scoring (17.8 ppg) behind the Owls’ Khalif Wyatt. St. Joe’s players also will have to watch out if they’re near the Rams bench, not knowing what what the animated Hurley might do.
Asked on a scale of 1-10 how animated Hurley is, Martelli told radio sidekick Joe Lunardi he is a “16.5.”
“It’s a lot of energy,” Martelli said.
The Hawks, who likely will be playing in front of a less-than-full Hagan with students on spring break, will have to make their own energy. They’ll need it to beat the Rams and secure a spot in Brooklyn, where they hope to have the success everyone hoped for in November.
Asked what would make this season successful, Martelli answered, “That story is still to be written.”
-Scouting Rhode Island: Hurley, who played at Seton Hall, is assisted by more famous brother Bob, who starred at Duke and in the NBA. … Nikola Malesevic, a 6-foot-7 senior forward, averages 10.3 points and a team-best 5.3 rebounds. … Andre Malone, a 6-6 senior guard, gets 10 points and 4.1 boards. … Rhode Island struggles offensively, ranking last in the A-10 in scoring (62.1 ppg), 15th in field-goal percentage (40.4 percent) and 13th in 3-point field-goal percentage (32.8 percent). … The Rams also are 15th of 16 teams in rebounding margin, finishing with 5.3 rebounds less per game than opponents. … The Rams trail the all-time series with St. Joe’s 53-40 and 29-15 at Hawk Hill.
-Scouting St. Joe’s: Jones, who will be honored on Senior Night on Wednesday, leads the Hawks in scoring at 14.5 ppg. Langston Galloway (13.5), Ronald Roberts (11.7) and Aiken (10.7) also get double-figures. Jones needs 23 points to match Ahmad Nivins for third all-time on St. Joe’s scoring list. … Aiken (wrist, back) is questionable. He leads the A-10 in blocks at 2.9 rejections per contest. … Roberts tops the league in offensive rebounding (3.5) while ranking third in total rebounding (8.4). … The Hawks have played well defensively, holding teams to 41.4 percent from the field, including 32.1 percent from the arc. Those numbers rank third and second, respectively, in the A-10.
-Sound off: Do you think the Hawks can win the A-10 tourney?