Saint Joseph’s takes on Villanova in 70th Holy War

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Junior forward Halil Kanacevic knows the magnitude of this rivalry in Philadelphia (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Garrett Miley @GWMiley

Saint Joseph’s vs. Villanova is the biggest basketball rivalry in one of the greatest college basketball cities in the country: Philadelphia. The Hawks and Wildcats top all of the other Big 5 matchups in prestige and intensity, and this season’s matchup shouldn’t disappoint anyone.

“St. Joe’s and Nova is probably the biggest rivalry of all,” said junior forward Halil Kanacevic. “That’s how we look at it I guess.”

While Kanacevic was obviously hyperbolizing the magnitude of the rivalry, the Holy War is a big deal. While all of the Big 5 games are significant rivalries in their own, SJU vs. Villanova is the next level of rivalry. Two Roman Catholic schools with different orders, Augustians and Jesuits, meet for the 70th time on Tuesday evening in The Pavilion.

A majority of the Saint Joseph’s roster has experienced highs and lows against the Wildcats. In the 2010 and 2011 seasons, Saint Joseph’s lost to nationall- ranked Villanova teams, 97-89 and 71-60, respectively. Last season, the Hawks had their way with Villanova and beat the Wildcats, 74-58, in Hagan Arena. The game really opened up in the second half and the Hawks turned it into a highlight reel of acrobatic dunks courtesy of Ronald Roberts Jr. and Langston Galloway.

“I remember us feeling like we defended really well in that game,” sophomore guard Chris Wilson said about last season’s game against the Wildcats. “As far as the environment, that was crazy. To that point that was the best environment I had ever played in.”

SJUcoach Phil Martelli parked across the street and headed toward Hagan Arena to see roughly 1,100 Saint Joseph’s students lined up and down 54th street ready to enter the arena and participate in the Holy War. But what really stood out to Martelli was a gesture from Villanova coach Jay Wright.

“The thing that I’ll remember is the graciousness of Jay Wright,” Martelli said. “We walked out and exchanged a handshake before the game and he mentioned to me how he thought it was neat for his players to be a part of this environment because he gets Philadelphia. He deserves a lot of credit because he gets Philadelphia and he lives and breathes Philadelphia basketball.”

Langston Galloway’s shooting is key to Saint Joseph’s success (Photo: Anson Marsh)

This season, however, the Hawks will not have the comfort of Hagan Arena, as they will head into hostile territory against Villanova in The Pavilion. This season, both of the Hawks’ losses came away from Hagan Arena (at Creighton and against Florida State in neutral territory).

“I would fully expect it to be the same way [at the Pavilion] this season,” Wilson added.

“I think because we are on the road it’s less of a recall for us,” Martelli said. “I won’t show last year’s tape to the players when we do our video on Sunday.”

The Hawks as a team seem mixed as to how they are treating the matchup with the Wildcats. Martelli seems intent on beating Villanova at all costs.

“My intention is to win on Tuesday night [against Villanova],” Martelli said. “If these five guys have to play 40 minutes, then so be it.”

Some SJU players are taking a different approach to the game, though.

“I think the fans and the students take it a little more as a rivalry than the players and coaches do,” Kanacevic said. “Obviously you want to win because they are your peers, but that fans take it a little more serious than the players do. It’s a great tradition though, I love it.”

Saint Joseph’s needs to focus on improving its three-point shooting, rebounding, and free-throw shooting to avoid a defeat at Villanova. This season, SJU is averaging 35.0 rebounds per game, while the Wildcats are pulling down an average of 37.1 rebounds per game. The Hawks are 287th in the country in free-throw percentage this season, something that has cost Saint Joseph’s in the past and could play a factor down the stretch against Villanova.

Galloway’s three-point shooting percentage remains down this season (31 percent) compared to his career average (43 percent), but that’s something he and his teammates are working on.

“It’s coming along so far; we are really working on shooting,” Galloway said.

Forward C.J. Aiken is also struggling from behind the arc this season, shooting just 17 percent compared to his career average of 30 percent. If the shots start falling for SJU, the Hawks could become extremely dangerous, given their strong front court and effort on the defensive end of the floor.

The main focus of the Hawks defensively will be shutting down freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono. As a freshman, Arcidiacono is leading Villanova in scoring and can score almost at will. While his shooting percentages this season are low, he is still dangerous and Villanova’s biggest offensive threat. Forward JayVaugh Pinkston is the team’s second leading scorer and comes off the bench. Pinkston, a sophomore, is a high-energy scorer and rebounder and is an absolute load in the post. Villanova is a young team and does not have much experience being a part of this rivalry.

The Holy War is set for 7 p.m. at The Pavilion on Tuesday night.

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