March 30, 2005
NEW YORK -
By Tom Durso
They were smaller, as usual. They were less athletic, as usual.
They played their game, as usual. They won, as usual.
The Hawks continued their inspired 2005 run Tuesday night in Madison Square Garden, earning a trip to the National Invitation Tournament championship game after holding off Memphis, 70-58, before a largely pro-SJU crowd, in the semifinals.
The win was Saint Joseph's fifth in this year's post-season, a program record. The previous high was four victories, garnered by the 1996 team, which also reached the NIT finals. The Hawks (24-11) will play South Carolina, which defeated Maryland, 75-67, on Thursday at 7 p.m.
"I'm awfully proud of these guys because they've gotten every ounce of this they could get," said head coach Phil Martelli. "They played every game in the Atlantic 10 [tournament], and every game in the NIT. I'm happy for the players. ... In that locker room now, they're calm. They expected to play Thursday night. Each team gets their own resume, and this team is going to have a special resume."
Tuesday's game was decided as most Hawk wins this year have been. Pat Carroll, the game's leading scorer, buried clutch shot after clutch shot and finished with 24 points on 8-of-13 shooting. Dwayne Jones hit the boards like a man possessed, grabbing 14 rebounds and pitching in 13 points to earn a double-double. Dwayne Lee ran the point with poise and precision, notching seven assists, many of them lasers inside which led to key SJU buckets down the stretch.
"That's the thing that makes them good," marveled Tigers head coach John Calipari. "Each guy does what he does well, and doesn't try to do more."
Most important, the Hawks dictated the pace of the game. Most times down the floor they were content to run their halfcourt offense, which often takes the shot clock to single digits before the ball goes in the air. With the exception of two brief stretches, one in each half, during which SJU's play suddenly turned ragged, the Hawks managed to hold onto the basketball reasonably well and find the shot they wanted.
"We wanted to play possession basketball," Martelli said. "I thought we turned the ball over too easily in the first half. In the second half they made that run, and then Pat hit a big shot. We want to play basketball at our pace, and that fortunately in this case is what we were able to do. Fifty-eight [points] to that team is a good defensive stand. We stepped up and made our free throws. The rebounding effort across the board, and Dwayne Jones in particular, was just spectacular."
Memphis, an explosive scoring team, rarely found an offensive rhythm and shot just 39.3 percent from the floor. Saint Joseph's, at 40 percent, was barely better, but the Hawks hit twice as many treys, sank 12 more free throws, and outrebounded the Tigers, 40 to 31.
"Our focus here was the glass, the glass, the glass," Martelli noted.
Carroll was his usual sharpshooting self, nailing six of nine from beyond the arc. He also slashed across the lane to hit a running lefthander in the second half, helping to quell a Memphis run.
"The fact that noboby expected much out of this team, and we're playing our sixth game in the postseason right now," began Carroll, who continued: "I've had more satisfaction in this season and this post-season experience than I've ever had in basketball before."
"St. Joe's did what they do, and we didn't do what we do," said Calipari. "I couldn't get them to pass the ball to each other, and I don't know why. ... And the toughness -- they just out-toughed us. They had 11 offensive rebounds in the first half. That's just going to balls. They jerked balls out of our hands.
"They made the plays they had to make, and we didn't. They deserved to win the game. They played well. We held them to 40 percent [shooting], and they made big-time threes when they needed them. I'm impressed with their team."
And so a Saint Joseph's team that has already etched its place in the legacy of a proud and storied program gets the chance to play one more time. After a 3-6 start, that fact alone is stunning.
"The coaches made us believe in ourselves that we can be a good team," Carroll said. "It took a little bit of time for us to make that change. The coaches turned it around for us and gave the players confidence."