June 26, 2006
PHILADELPHIA - Sparked by a resilient quartet of seniors and the emergence of a dynamic group of underclassmen, Saint Joseph's University added another memorable chapter to its men's basketball history in 2005-06. Surviving one of the nation's most grueling schedules, the Hawks hit their stride late in the year: advancing to a second straight Atlantic 10 title game, playing in their sixth consecutive postseason tournament, and coming within a whisker of a trip back to the Big Dance.
Despite all these successes, prospects for another memory-making campaign were not assured when the season began. Already facing a slate that included more than a dozen games against tournament-tested teams, the Hawks were confronted with the challenge of replacing the A-10 Player of the Year, another emotional team leader, and the departure of a third starter a year early to the NBA Draft. Yet these were tests that returning seniors Dwayne Lee, Dave Mallon, Chet Stachitas, and Rob Sullivan had passed before.
Stachitas, a Second Team All-Atlantic 10 selection proved capable of filling the Hawks' need for a primary scorer. The Academic All-Atlantic 10 and All-District choice netted his 1,000th career point during the season and finished among SJU's single season and career leaders in three-point field goals.
Lee followed up his breakout 2004-05 season with an equally impressive senior campaign. The Jersey City native was an iron man, playing nearly every minute for Phil Martelli's club. He upped his scoring and rebounding totals, while efficiently directing the attack and ranking among the Atlantic 10's top defenders.
Sophomore Abdulai Jalloh, who began to emerge during the non-conference slate, poured in a career-high 30 points against Ohio State and added 27 versus Gonzaga. The Second Team All-A-10 Pick finished the season as the team's top scorer and rebounder while placing second in assists and steals.
Mallon and freshman Ahmad Nivins saw their roles take shape. Mallon solidified the middle for SJU defensively. Nivins, who would be named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team, provided the Hawks with an athletic presence off the bench, leading the team in blocks and finishing second in rebounds.
After hitting the game winning basket in a win over Temple, sophomore Rob Ferguson developed into a versatile offensive weapon and provided the team with a fourth double-figure scoring option by season's end. Classmate Pat Calathes also developed. The 6-10 playmaker took command of his unique skill and provided the team with another weapon heading into the Conference tournament.
Several other Hawks saw their playing time increase as the season progressed, including freshmen Alvin Mofunanya and Edwin Lashley. Junior Artur Surov also contributed in the post. Sullivan headlined an energetic group of reserves that included Pete Kathopoulis and Marcus Mitchell.
The Hawks held a record of 10-12 on Valentine's Day when Martelli challenged his seniors to maximize what remained of their careers. They responded with a late run that carried SJU to the cusp of the program's third A-10 title.
SJU rattled off five straight wins to close the regular season. Then at the A-10 Tournament in Cincinnati, SJU dispatched Dayton in the opening round and then routed fourth-seeded Saint Louis in the quarterfinals. The team's winning streak reached eight games as it topped Temple in the semifinals, in what proved to be Hall of Famer John Chaney's final game. The tournament final pitted the Hawks against the hometown favorite Xavier. With a ticket to the Big Dance on the line, SJU rallied from a double-digit first half deficit only to have the Musketeers edge the Hawks with late free throws.
The postseason saw Saint Joseph's seeded second in a reconstituted NIT field in which SJU renewed its rivalry with Rutgers in a first round victory before succumbing in overtime to an underrated Hofstra squad that had knocked off final four participant George Mason twice late in the year.
The Hawks led the nation and shattered the school record for free throw shooting accuracy. SJU also reached the postseason for the sixth straight year. Ultimately, though, the 2005-06 season will be remembered for the resilience of a remarkable senior class. Winners of 96 career games, the second highest four-year total in school history, this quartet crafted their own chapter in the university's storied hardwood history.