Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
A shorthanded Saint Joseph’s squad looked tired and overmatched as the second half of their Coaches vs. Cancer Classic semifinal against Notre Dame marched on, seemingly unable to come up with the points necessary to climb the mountain and topple their first ranked opponent of the year.
Ultimately though, it wasn’t points that SJU needed–it was stops. A tenacious defense held the No. 20 Fighting Irish scoreless for nearly eight minutes at the end of regulation and overtime, picking up a 79-70 win and sending them on to a date with Florida State in the tournament final.
Saint Joseph’s held onto a 37-36 lead at halftime, but a Pat Connaughton 3-pointer just 18 seconds into the second period gave Notre Dame a lead it looked like they were never going to relinquish. SJU cut it to a one-possession game on several occasions, including 46-45 with 14:47 remaining and 55-53 with 10:00 to go, but each time the Fighting Irish would respond–it wasn’t until the last two minutes that the Hawks gave it one final push.
SJU junior guard Langston Galloway, who took a hard fall to the floor that knocked out one of his front teeth earlier in the second half (after the game, the soft-spoken Galloway wasn’t quite ready to show off his new smile), tied things up at 66 with 1:30 to play on a reverse layup; Notre Dame had led 66-58 with 4:02 remaining in the game but didn’t score until 1:09 remained in the extra session, an Eric Atkins jumper that cut Saint Joseph’s lead to 71-68. The Fighting Irish had missed their prior 11 shots.
“Down (eight) to come back against that veteran group and the way they were shooting it, I’m happy the way we’ve advanced our game,” Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. “We’re better than we were Monday and we’re gonna have to be better tomorrow night than we were tonight.”
This was the final game of senior guard Carl “Tay” Jones’ 3-game suspension that had him out for SJU’s exhibition win over Wheeling Jesuit and season-opening 61-35 win at home against Yale, both part of the Coaches vs. Cancer event.
Both teams had fairly balanced nights offensively; Notre Dame had six players score seven-or-more points, led by Jack Cooley‘s 14, while Saint Joseph’s had five players hit that benchmark, all five of whom–Kanacevic, Galloway Chris Wilson, Ronald Roberts and C.J. Aiken–hit double figures.
Wilson’s 19 points represented a new career high for the sophomore point guard, who’s been starting in Jones’ stead during his suspension. The 6-foot-3 Charlotte, N.C. native shot six-of-10 from the floor as part of an 46.6 percent (27-of-58) night for the Saint Joseph’s; Notre Dame made 38.6 percent (27-of-70) overall.
“I just think it was a great team effort,” Wilson said. “Last game I feel like I left some easy ones out there so it was important for me to hit some of those, with the free-throws.”
“I just have a little bit of a different mindset this year with all the work that I’ve put in with Coach Duda over the summer and all the work I did at home, I don’t feel like I’m quite the same player I was last year,” he added.
Roberts led the Hawks with 21 points and 16 rebounds, the latter of which beat his career high of 12 that he’d tied in the Yale win.
The first half was an intense, back-and-forth affair save for the first three minutes, when SJU missed their first three shots while turning it over twice as ND jumped out to a quick 8-0 lead. Martelli called timeout to right the ship and Halil Kancevic hit two 3-pointers as part of a 17-8 stretch where the Hawks took their first lead of the game.
“We did not wanna give up another lead in the second half and lose and hang our head and be like ‘we did it again,” Kanacevic said, referring to the fact that 11 of Saint Joseph’s 14 losses last year came after the team had a lead at halftime, though he added that Martelli didn’t need to say too much in that timeout. “Even if both teams were pretty old–Notre Dame’s veterans and we have a veteran squad–it’s still a big-time game, big-time arena, everybody’s still getting their feet a little wet in the beginning minutes of the game. I think they did a great job coming out executing and we just held our heads and coach gave us all confidence and we were confident in each other.”
Kanacevic, a junior who started his college career at Hofstra, had his best long-distance shooting game in his two years at Saint Joseph’s, hitting 3-of-5 from beyond the arc for his 15 points.
“I didn’t do it as a Hawk, but yeah, the team needed that tonight,” he said. “I was open, coaches were confident in me, said the bigs should get our spacing so look for your shot, and my teammates did a good job of getting me open.
“Every night’s going to be a different game, tomorrow night I might be scoring from inside or passing the whole game, anything it takes to win.”
Notre Dame has been one of the more prolific 3-point shooting teams in the nation over the last few seasons, taking more than 35 percent of their shots from beyond the arc in eight of the 11 seasons and ranking inside the top 30 teams in the country in 3-point percentage in seven of those seasons. Friday night’s game was a continuation on a theme, as the Fighting Irish went 10-of-29 (34.5 percent), though they missed their final five attempts from distance.
The Hawks will take on the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday night at approx. 9:30pm (20 minutes after the Brigham Young-Notre Dame game ends); the game will be televised on TruTV.