NCAA

Frustrations grow for Phil Martelli, St. Joe's in 9th straight loss

Frustrations grow for Phil Martelli, St. Joe's in 9th straight loss

BOX SCORE

St. Joe's could not solve Rhode Island's high-intensity defense Wednesday night, falling, 68-49, at Hagan Arena (see Instant Replay).

Before the first media timeout, the Hawks already had four turnovers. Even coach Phil Martelli can admit it comes down to skill and depth -- both areas the Hawks lack in.

"We came out and turned the ball over," Martelli said. "That's not sluggish, that's skill. We turned the ball over four times by the first media timeout. It has nothing to do with being sluggish, it has everything to do with the skill of running, passing and dribbling the ball.

"I'm not killing anybody, but on the first play of the game, our guy dribbled the ball off his foot into the backcourt. We threw at least three passes into the crowd."

St. Joe's finished with 13 turnovers.

Its troubles began in the first half as it fell behind, 36-20, thanks to a 12-2 run by the Rams late in the stanza. The Hawks never held a lead in the game. 

"They're a great defensive team," Brendan Casper said. "They pressure the ball, they overplay the wings and they make it difficult for you to get into an offense. I think we struggled with that today. We couldn't initiate the first pass and we were slow. We couldn't get the ball out on the break, I don't know how many fast-break points we had but I feel like we were slow in the break.

"So credit to them for a great defense, but also we didn't run offense. We missed foul shots. When we got looks, they didn't always drop, but they're one of the best teams in the Atlantic 10."

Casper started for Nick Robinson, who played only eight minutes because of a foot injury. The fourth different starting point guard for the Hawks was right about St. Joe's being lost at the free throw line, where it went 9 for 20 (45 percent).

However, it wasn't just the charity stripe. The Hawks struggled in the paint, an area they were outscored, 34-20, while the bench was outscored, 27-9. St. Joe's also shot just 2 for 9 from beyond the arc.

This is the ninth straight loss for the Hawks. They have not lost that many in a row since January 2011.

"I find the closest brick wall and run straight into it," Martelli said. "As many times as I can. Because that's what I'm doing, that's what it feels like. All I can do it ask them to fill up their tank, and to show up.

"All I can do is come up with a plan. Tonight's plan: zone. We played one possession of man-to-man. And people will say, 'You just waved the white flag.' Well, give me an option here. What if we had foul trouble? We would have been down to volunteers to play, so we couldn't afford foul trouble."

Martelli has been without his starting point guard Lamarr Kimble, who injured his foot on Feb. 11 against UMass, and leading scorer Shavar Newkirk, who tore his ACL earlier this season.

Freshman Charlie Brown still believes in his point guards not named Kimble.

"We have Nick and Brendan, who get our offense started," Brown. "When it comes down to it, we need to be scoring more."

With a pair of triples Wednesday, Brown set the Hawks' freshman record for threes in a season at 66. He hit his first one two minutes into the contest and waited until there were 45 seconds left in the game to enter the record books.

"It's a great feeling," Brown said. "I thank my teammates, first of all. They allow me to get open and take my shots and I really thank them for that."

Records aside, this was still another Hawks loss because of a young team with players that have not fully matured yet.

"Call it the way it is," Martelli said. "That was participation. That wasn't a competition.

"I think they gave me what they have, it's just their games are light. Team with the better players won and team with the more manly players won."

Honored
Prior to the start of the game, Casper and Javon Baumann were honored for senior night.

Martelli spoke highly of each and mentioned they have contributed to rich history of St. Joe's basketball.

"They have two [A-10] championships," Martelli said. "They have two championships in four years and Javon already graduated in 3½ years. Brendan is a remarkable athletic honor-roll student. They are leaving as champions. They get a tattoo for this [season's] record, too, but they have two Atlantic 10 rings. Job well done."

Casper left the game to a thunderous applause late in the second half.

"There are definitely a lot of emotions in your last home game," Casper said. "Especially getting the start at point guard … you want to go out and play well in your last game."

Temple, Drexel battle for first time in a decade

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USA Today Images

Temple, Drexel battle for first time in a decade

NBC Sports Philadelphia anchor/reporter Amy Fadool and senior producer Sean Kane get you set for all the weekend’s local college basketball games with Fastbreak Friday. Look for this column every Friday during the college basketball season.

Drexel (5-5) at Temple (6-3), Saturday, 5 p.m.
AF:
The Owls are a good team, maybe frustrating at times, maybe one-dimensional at other times, but they are a good team. All you had to do was watch their most recent game, a 20-point loss to top-ranked Villanova, to see that in full effect. Temple was down the entire game but climbed back in it to cut the deficit to seven at one point thanks to the hot shooting of Quinton Rose. The sophomore shot a scorching 9 of 12 overall, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc. But Villanova shut down pretty much every other offensive threat from the Owls. And one man alone cannot stop that Wildcats squad. 

In fact, after watching 'Nova so far this season, I’m questioning what team will beat the Wildcats. But that is for my co-author Sean Kane to ponder. Let us focus on this week’s matchup for the Owls, and that is Drexel. 

These two haven’t faced each other in 10 years. In fact, almost exactly to the date. Back on Dec. 15, 2007, Temple beat Drexel 64-51 at the Palestra. 

I have written about Drexel for every Fastbreak Friday thus far this season. In fact, I’ve written about Drexel for nearly every Fastbreak Friday since I started co-authoring this column four years ago. And this year’s team is as confounding as one I’ve encountered. 

Last week, I picked them to beat Robert Morris, a team I felt they should’ve easily handled even on the road. But they didn’t. The Dragons lost by double digits. Earlier that same week, they faced La Salle at the Gola. As a mid-week game, it was not subject to my prediction but I would’ve gone with the Explorers at home. But once again, I would’ve been wrong. Drexel led wire to wire and won at La Salle, 72-70. It gave Drexel its third win in a row at the time and the senior Dragons became the school’s first class ever to beat La Salle twice at Gola.

So who to pick this week? Temple is good. I covered that Drexel is confounding. I’m going with the Owls. The loss to Villanova wasn’t pretty. But we could be seeing a championship Wildcats team, so I'll throw it out the window.  

Temple 72, Drexel 65

Mercer (6-4) at La Salle (5-6), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
SK:
La Salle is coming off its most impressive showing of the season — a 77-68 loss to top-ranked Villanova. It's not often you can point to a loss as an encouraging performance but that was exactly the case for the Explorers last Sunday. They had the lead at halftime and generally outplayed Villanova for the first 35 minutes of the game. If La Salle can duplicate that type of effort the rest of the season, the wins should start piling up. 

The Explorers had a full week to prepare for a Mercer team that won't be a pushover on Sunday afternoon. The Bears' four losses have come against UCF, Colorado, Tennessee and Memphis. And they beat Drexel by 19 in mid-November. That's the same Drexel team that won at La Salle a week and a half ago. 

La Salle doesn't lack for talent. That was on display against Villanova when B.J. Johnson, Amar Stukes and Pookie Powell combined for 49 points. The Explorers can play with anyone, it's simply a matter of attention to detail and bringing a consistent energy level each game. 

I like La Salle in this spot on Sunday. The combination of getting a confidence boost from the Villanova game, having a whole week to prepare and playing at home should be a winning formula for the Explorers. Mercer will put up a fight but in the end, I expect the Explorers' talent to prevail. 

La Salle 76, Mercer 70  

Maine (3-8) at Saint Joseph's (4-5), Sunday, 4:30 p.m.
SK:
Coming into play with a 4-5 record, Saint Joseph's gets a golden opportunity to climb back to .500 with a home game against a Maine team that only has one win this season against a Division l opponent. This is a game the Hawks should win comfortably.

The absence of sophomore forward Charlie Brown continues to be a big storyline for Saint Joseph's. Brown is the Hawks' best player and has yet to play this season due to a preseason wrist injury. There is no official word on his availability against Maine on Sunday. On the surface, it appears this would be a good game for Brown to be eased back in, but Phil Martelli could opt to hold him out until the start of Atlantic 10 play on Dec. 30. Or he could be sidelined even longer than that. The only certainty is St. Joe's needs Brown back in the lineup. 

Senior guard Shavar Newkirk has done an admirable job of sparking the offense in Brown's absence. He had 18 points and six assists in last Saturday's loss to Temple and is averaging a team-best 16.7 points per game. Factor in senior forward James Demery (16.6 ppg) and freshman forward Taylor Funk (14.7 ppg), and the Hawks have a nice stable of scorers. This has the makings of an explosive lineup once Brown returns. 

With or without Brown, look for Saint Joseph's to collect an easy win against Maine on Sunday.    

Saint Joseph's 81, Maine 60

Prediction Records
Sean Kane:
7-4
Amy Fadool: 4-8

Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

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USA Today Images/AP Images

Jalen Brunson, Omari Spellman give Temple nightmare as No. 1 Villanova rolls

BOX SCORE

In every play, there are protagonists and antagonists, heroes and villains. And some of us are drawn to the heroes while others revel in the villains.

And in the latest act of the historic Villanova-Temple rivalry Wednesday night in North Philly, a well-known Villanova hero and loathed Temple villain left his footprint yet again.

But this time, he was joined at the hip by an emerging jersey and shorts-wearing hero from the Main Line and a new North Broad Street villain who drew his first taste of Temple blood.

Star junior point guard Jalen Brunson sparkled with 31 points on 11 of 16 from the field, including 6 for 10 from downtown, and redshirt freshman Omari Spellman scorched the nets for 27 points of his own as that duo led No. 1 Villanova to a thorough 87-67 beatdown of Temple at the Liacouras Center (see observations).

The victory extended the record Big 5 win streak to 22 games for the Wildcats, now 11-0 on the season. Temple fell to 6-3.

After the game, all eyes, lights, cameras and recorders were on the dominant twosome, and rightfully so.

“I was just able to make my shots,” said Brunson, whose 31 points Wednesday were a career high. “I tried to make the right play at the right time. They were taking away certain plays and certain passes, so I was just trying to be aggressive.”

That ruthless aggression was on full display in the first half when Brunson came blazing out of the gate. He scored 10 straight Villanova points in a 1:57 span to ignite a 15-1 Wildcats run that pushed an eight-point lead all the way to a 20-point lead.

On that 10-0 personal run, Brunson showed his shifty elusiveness by dazzling a Temple defender and the crowd with a spinning layup and then showing his range with two treys. As the half went on, Brunson was scoring with every blink of an eye. He finished the half with 22 points.

With redshirt junior Phil Booth, who entered averaging 12.7 points per night, limited with a virus, Villanova head coach Jay Wright had a feeling Brunson would take command of this one.

“He was incredible,” Wright said. “It’s really no surprise to us. He can do that every night, but we like to keep balance. With Phil Booth being out … I knew [Brunson] was going to be more aggressive. They did a really good job taking away our perimeter guys, so it forced somebody to go create shots.

“He made the shots tonight and that was the difference.”

The Liacouras Center is always hostile territory for anyone wearing blue and white, but especially so for Brunson, who spurned the Owls to sign with the Wildcats three years ago out of high school even though his father, Rick, is a Temple legend who starred under John Chaney in the early 1990s.

Temple fans haven’t forgotten and peppered Brunson with every word and name in the book on Wednesday, just as they did two years ago when he made his first trip to North Philly as a Wildcat. That game two years ago was his true freshman arrival as he dropped 25 points in a spectacular performance. He’s a Temple menace as he’s dropped 69 points on 23 of 33 shooting, including 13 of 20 from downtown in three games against the Owls.

“It is what it is,” Brunson said of the not-so-flattering words from fans. “I try to keep the same mindset throughout every game. Being aggressive, trying to set the tone defensively, tell my teammates and the younger guys that we make sure to play through the full 40 minutes.

“It’s being aggressive and just trying to be a killer. Tonight was just one of those nights I got it going.”

On to his partner in crime Spellman, who lit up the scoreboard in a variety of ways in his first exposure to this heated rivalry. The 6-foot-9 redshirt freshman torched the Owls for his 27 points on 11 of 14 from the field — 7 for 7 inside the arc and brilliant touch on 4 for 7 outside the arc. He’s a matchup nightmare, perhaps unlike Wright has ever had on the Main Line.

“It definitely helps to be around players that are as good as my teammates are every day,” Spellman said.  

“We know we need an inside presence, and we know he can do that,” Wright said of Spellman. “As we’re doing that with him, we’re working on footwork and we’re watching him. We chart our shooters and we said, ‘This kid is one of our best shooters. What are we doing?’

“We can’t disregard the fact he’s one of our best shooters. With Phil down tonight and losing (Collin) Gillespie, we said to him, ‘Yo, you gotta do this.’ I’m sure he’s been waiting for it. He’s never asked. But he showed he can do it tonight.”

The performances of both Brunson and Spellman are testaments to the rich depth Villanova has. Booth was limited and leading scorer Mikal Bridges had an off night with just seven points. He averaged 18.1 coming in.

Still, Villanova barely had to look back. Quinton Rose’s career-high 27 points guided Temple’s efforts, but it wasn’t nearly enough. Not even his three straight threes in the first half that cut Villanova’s lead to seven and his subsequent shout for his teammates to "Wake up!" did the trick.

“They’re a team that just goes on some killer runs and they did that, obviously in the first half, which hurt us greatly,” Temple coach Fran Dunphy said. “We got it back to seven in that first half and then they go on a 10-0 run that spaces them again. … You can’t make a mistake, and when you do, they take great advantage of it. Those runs are just devastating.

“They’ve got a lot of weapons and Bridges wasn’t a dominating player here. He can be dominating. Phil Booth can be dominating. Tonight it was Brunson and Spellman. They’re just a really good basketball team.”

Dunphy is a Big 5 lifer who’s seen it all in this game. And he said those quotes with an exasperated tone to his voice. His guys gave Villanova their best shot on this evening and still fell the way they did.

That right there should tell you just how good and scary this Villanova team is.