June 27, 2008
PHILADELPHIA - The 2007-08 campaign for Saint Joseph's basketball brought promise and high expectations to Hawk Hill. With four of five starters back, the Hawks were primed to make the final season at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse one to remember.
Saint Joseph's survived a tough non-conference schedule, enjoyed a masterful first month of a-10 play, fought through a late season letdown and sent the Fieldhouse out in style to make a run to NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
The Hawks were one of the most balanced teams in the conference, led by seniors Pat Calathes and Rob Ferguson. Bolstered by the addition of junior transfer Tasheed Carr and the continued improvement of Ahmad Nivins, the Hawks consistently placed all five starters in double figures.
After a split in the season-opening Pre-Season NIT, Saint Joseph's posted wins over Boston University and Ball State. but a short losing streak was quickly cured by three wins in late December.
The Hawks opened 2008 looking like a team destined for success. A career-high 31 points and 12 rebounds from Nivins led SJU to a high-scoring win at UMass to begin conference play. This hot start to 2008 saw the Hawks rack up victories in eight of their first nine games of the calendar year.
Individual milestones were achieved as Martelli earned his 250th career win in a 40-point drubbing of Big 5 foe Penn. Ferguson and Calathes each joined the 1,000-point club on separate occasions.
Calathes gave Hawk fans some consolation for the last-second losses over the past few years by hitting a dramatic game-winning 3-pointer with three seconds to go at Temple. That finish would provide a foreshadowing of the next two meetings between the Hawks and Owls.
One could see just how far Martelli's squad had come against villanova before a frenzied SJU crowd at the Palestra. The Hawks built a quick double-figure lead and ended a three-game losing streak in the rivalry with a 22-point blowout. Ferguson and Calathes turned in true Big 5 senior performances, pacing the Hawks with 20 points apiece.
The Hawks rode the emotional wave from the Villanova win, but what followed next was a rollercoaster ride for the rest of the season.
SJU put together a stellar effort at Xavier, but saw the 13th-ranked Musketeers come from behind in the final two minutes to earn the win.
Nivins reached 1,000 career points in a win over St. Bonaventure at the Fieldhouse while a crucial win at Rhode Island was engineered again by SJU's balanced effort, as all five starters scored in double figures.
A few losses in late february dimmed the Hawks' postseason hopes, so Saint Joseph's needed a source of inspiration. The Hawks would find it in the form of a 59-year old building as eighth-ranked Xavier came to town for the Fieldhouse finale and Senior Night on Hawk Hill. The guest list included a parade of former SJU greats such as Jameer Nelson, Mike Bantom, and Dr. Jack Ramsay, along with a hyped-up Hawk crowd determined to see Saint Joseph's send the fieldhouse out in proper fashion. the Hawks responded with a 71-66 upset giving Calathes, Ferguson, Lidzius and 3,200 plus a night to remember.
Saint Joseph's felt the effects of the emotional Fieldhouse Finale, falling in the blizzard at Dayton. But the confident Hawks would head into the Atlantic 10 Tournament knowing that the next four days would seal their posteason fate.
In front of large SJU crowds at Boardwalk Hall, the Hawks defeated Fordham and Richmond to march onto the semifinals and another meeting with Xavier. Seeming to always save their best for the Musketeers, the Hawks executed a defensive gameplan that limited avier to just one 3-point field goal the entire 40 minutes. The steady play of Calathes and Ferguson, combined with a fast start from Nivins, gave Saint Joseph's its second win over Xavier in eight days and a spot in the A-10 title game against Temple.
Making an impressive third championship game appearance in the past four years, the Hawks battled Temple in a game similar to the other two. With a large crowd on hand at Boardwalk Hall, the two philadelphia schools did not disappoint and ultimately saw the city gain two ncaa bids.
Selection Sunday became a tense waiting game for the Hawks. but the posteason hopes that seemed to have faded were suddenly brought to light with the announcement of the field of 65. An estatic and relieved group of Hawks found themselves the owners of SJU's first tournament bid since 2004 and the fifth in Martelli's tenure.
Martelli and the Hawks drew the 11th seed in the East Region and a date with sixth-seeded Oklahoma in Birmingham. Ferguson saved one of his best games for his last, tallying 21 points. Despite that effort, and 14 points from Nivins, Saint Joseph's couldn't dig out of a double-digit hole and suffered a 72-64 loss that closed the chapter on the exciting and unpredictable ride of the 2007-08 Hawks.
The season marked the departure of a senior class that compiled 82 wins over the past four years. Calathes' 72 points in the A-10 Tournament was the fifth best number in conference history. Ferguson played 135 games, the most of any Hawk, while Nivins became saint joseph's all-time leader in field goal percentage. The trio joined an exclusive club of 26 players in hawk history to record over 1,000 points and 500 rebounds in a career.
This year's team was at times unpredictable, but in the end, reaffirmed Saint Joseph's place among the nation's best programs, while laying the foundation for the future success of Hawk basketball.