March 16, 2005
By DAN GELSTON
AP Sports Writer
PHILADELPHIA - This time, John Bryant was the one who sent a message: No injury was going to deny him a chance to end his career on the court instead of watching from the bench.
Saint Joseph's got an emotional lift from Bryant's return to action and Pat Carroll scored 16 points to lead the Hawks to a 53-44 win over Hofstra in the opening round of the NIT Wednesday night.
"It just feels great to come back," Bryant said. "Just like anybody with an injury, the first game back is special."
Bryant was in the starting lineup three weeks after his arm was broken on a hard foul ordered by Temple coach John Chaney. Bryant received a standing ovation from the home crowd when he was introduced as the starting power forward.
"It's nice that the fans acknowledged him," coach Phil Martelli said.
Bryant made an instant impact, passing out his defensive rebound to Dwayne Lee at the top of the key for a jumper on Saint Joe's very first possession. Bryant was scoreless, had three assists and grabbed five rebounds in 23 minutes.
Dwayne Jones added 12 points and 15 rebounds, and Lee had 14 points for the Hawks (20-11). They will play Saturday against Buffalo, an 81-76 winner over Drexel.
Bryant decided to play after practicing Tuesday. He was cleared by team doctors and talked over the decision with his parents. Bryant was told there was a slim chance he would be reinjured.
"A slim chance is good for me," Bryant said, smiling.
With starting forward Dave Mallon out with a strained chest muscle, Bryant was needed anyway.
"I knew since he was going to be out, I might as well step in," Bryant said. "It was a good time for a return.
Bryant hadn't played since Feb. 22 when Chaney sent in Nehemiah Ingram - a player the coach called a "goon" - to "send a message" and play rough and commit hard fouls. Bryant, a 6-foot-7 forward, was knocked hard to the floor by the seldom-used 6-foot-8, 250-pound Ingram.
His right elbow heavily wrapped, Bryant joined the Hawks in the pre-game layup line and also shot some free throws. The referees smiled as they checked out Bryant's wrap when he came out with Carroll for the captains meeting at midcourt.
Bryant's arm didn't seem to bother him - he even had a nice block in the closing minutes - though he picked at the bandage a few times when play stopped.
"My biggest concern was whether or not I would get hit, because that's the worst thing," said Bryant, his elbow wrapped in ice. "Fortunately I didn't get hit today and I felt great throughout the whole game."
Chaney was suspended for five games before returning to coach the Owls in their NIT loss Tuesday night. Chaney apologized to Bryant and his family and offered to pay any medical bills.
Antoine Agudio scored 16 points for the Pride (21-9), who lost their only other postseason games in four NCAA tournaments (1976-77, 2000-01) and one previous NIT in 1999.
Jones converted a three-point play with 5:12 left, giving the Hawks a 40-37 lead. Carroll hit a 3 from the left wing and added a layup in traffic to make it 45-41.
Jones added a thunderous dunk, and Lee and Carroll sealed the win with free throws in the final minute.
"Mature teams smell the blood and know how to put teams away. They made their free throws down the stretch," said Hofstra coach Tome Pecora.
The Hawks nicely regrouped after making the NCAA's regional final last year behind Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, who went to the NBA. They won their fifth straight Atlantic 10 division title and played in the conference championship game.
The Hawks played in their 13th NIT and first since 2002. Martelli led the Hawks to the NIT championship game in 1996, his first season as coach.
"Twenty wins is a monumental feat for this team for what is in this room talentwise," Martelli said.