Phil Martelli: Villanova deserves more national recognition


Phil Martelli: Villanova deserves more national recognition

With Villanova having already earned the program’s first-ever No. 1 ranking and, despite a recent loss at Xavier, still on its way to a top seed in the NCAA Tournament, it might be easy for some to at least partially overlook the incredible season its Big 5 rival is putting together down the road.

But that doesn’t bother Phil Martelli, who on Sunday guided Saint Joseph’s to its 24th win of the season, matching the program’s most victories since Jameer Nelson became a Hawk Hill legend more than a decade ago.

If anything, the St. Joe’s coach believes Villanova head man Jay Wright deserves more national recognition for the Wildcats’ staggering recent success.

After Sunday's win over Saint Louis, Martelli was asked if this 'Nova team reminds him of the 2003-04 St. Joe’s squad that had a perfect regular season and also briefly attained a No. 1 ranking

"Here’s what everyone has missed about Jay Wright," Martelli said. "Jay Wright has done this without pros. I had three pros on that [2003-04] team. And that was a national story from when the Eagles' season ended.

“We haven’t done enough as a basketball community to recognize what Jay has done. When you start talking about, ‘Well, Kansas does it this way, Arizona this way,’ [Villanova does] it without pros. Jay has done it for years without pros. He had a first-team All-American, Scottie Reynolds, that wasn’t a pro. That’s phenomenal. It just absolutely blows my mind how good he is at what he’s doing.”

Wright, of course, has had a few players move on to the NBA, including, most recently, Darrun Hilliard. But when you consider that the Wildcats are a blistering 87-12 over the past three seasons, Martelli’s point is certainly a fair one.

St. Joe’s, meanwhile, had a strong season two years ago to make the NCAA Tournament with current New York Knicks guard Langston Galloway leading the way, before taking a big step back last year and finishing 13-18. But now, at 24-5 and 13-3 in the Atlantic 10, the Hawks are poised to perhaps win a regular-season conference title and wear light jerseys in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Do they deserve more national attention for such a remarkable turnaround?

“To be honest with you, I personally don’t care about any of the recognition,” Martelli said. “As long as the guys in the room, as long as the players themselves, are enjoying the experience and are pleased with what they’re doing but not satisfied. This is a really special group having a special year.”

The players certainly are enjoying it. And they don’t mind if Villanova might be stealing a few of their headlines.

“Villanova, they’re a great team,” Bembry said from the St. Joe’s locker room after he poured in 27 points in the Hawks’ 77-63 win Sunday. “They’re obviously doing a lot better than us. They were number one in the nation. They’re a good team. It was fun playing against those guys.”

“I think we get recognized,” St. Joe’s standout senior Isaiah Miles added. “Villanova’s a really good team. But I think the city’s going to know about us, especially if we make it to the NCAA Tournament.”

The city, at least the hoops fans in it, certainly knows about the longtime head coach at St. Joe’s. And they’ll hear about him even more this week as Martelli is poised to win his 400th game after picking up career victory No. 399 on Sunday.

And even Martelli, who’s generally dismissive about personal accolades, admitted that will be the kind of recognition he’d enjoy.

“It would be pretty cool because 400, with it being 25 wins this year, that combination would be special,” said Martelli, who's in his 21st season as SJU's head coach. “I’d think a lot about my family and what they sacrificed but also what we’ve gotten for being a part of this. I would think about these assistant coaches who have worked so hard. I would think about all of those loyal people who send a text, send an email, drop a note, come up to you at a restaurant.

“I’m not gonna say it’s meaningless. It’s not meaningless. It’s a significant number.”

And Martelli hopes he can get it on Wednesday when the Hawks take on a St. Bonaventure team that handed them a rare loss earlier in February.

So do his players.

“That’s definitely something that will be special to be a part of,” Bembry said. “He’s a great coach. He’s done a great job and is a big reason why we’ve been so much better.”

Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

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Saint Joseph's comeback bid comes up short vs. Florida

CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Keyontae Johnson saw Florida’s big lead shrink to almost nothing in the final minute. He made sure his teammates didn’t let this one get away from the Gators.

Johnson had a career-high 22 points to lead the Gators to a 70-62 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Charleston Classic, playing without ejected leading scorer Kerry Blackshear Jr. on Thursday. Not that it came easily as Florida (3-2) saw its 18-point lead cut to 64-62 in the final minute.

“We just communicated, told everyone to stay together,” Johnson said. “We stayed locked in.”

The focus proved the difference as Florida hit six foul shots down the stretch while Saint Joseph’s missed two shots and committed a pair of turnovers.

“Down the stretch, I thought we showed a tremendous toughness,” Florida coach Mike White said.

The Gators needed it with Blackshear missing almost all of the game. He played three minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls. Then he was thrown out when he was battling underneath and his elbow looked like it hit Saint Joseph’s guard Taylor Funk. Blackshear, who came in averaging 14 points and 12 boards, was called for a flagrant two foul and sent off the court.

Blackshear’s departure seemed to energize the Hawks (2-3), who trailed 43-27 when the Florida star left the court. That’s when St. Joseph’s went on a 29-16 spurt to cut it to three points on Funk’s basket with six minutes left.

But Johnson followed with a basket and Andrew Nembhard made another to extend the lead.

St. Joseph’s had one last charge, slicing things to 64-62 on Ryan Daly’s layup in the final minute. The Hawks had several chances to tighten things, but could not. “We’re not going to go down easy,” Daly said.

Florida will take on Miami here Friday for a spot in the Charleston Classic finals.

The Hawks face Missouri State on Friday.

Johnson also had a game-high 12 rebounds. Nembhard added 16 points.

Florida took control quickly and appeared to make this a runaway as Noah Locke had two 3-pointers and Nembhard also hit one from behind the arc as the Gators went ahead 11-2 less than two minutes in and steadily built its lead.

St. Joseph’s had hit 34 first-half 3s combined its first four games. It made just one of its 14 long-range attempts this time as it fell behind.

Daly led the Hawks with 25 points.

Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

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Swider scores 26, No. 17 Villanova routs MTSU 98-69

CONWAY, S.C. -- It’s been awhile since No. 17 Villanova shot this well from long range. Cole Swider has never scored like this.

Swider scored a career-high 26 points with six 3-pointers, and the Wildcats routed Middle Tennessee 98-69 on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Collin Gillespie added 16 points and hit four 3s, Justin Moore finished with 15 points and Jeremiah Robinson-Earl had 11 rebounds to help Villanova (3-1) - which never trailed, led by 35 and shot 57% while winning its second straight following a 25-point loss at No. 10 Ohio State.

And yet, another number in the box score caught coach Jay Wright’s eye - Swider’s seven rebounds.

“He’s more than just a shooter,” Wright said.

And the Wildcats have plenty of those. They made 18 3s - one shy of the school record, and their most since they also had 18 in a victory over Kansas at the 2018 Final Four.

“They have elite size with great shooters,” Middle Tennessee coach Nick McDevitt said, “and any short close-out or decent close-out results in three points.”

Eleven of them came during a first-half barrage that pushed the lead well into the 20s. Swider hit his fifth 3 from the corner shortly before the buzzer to put the Wildcats up 53-28 at halftime.

Saddiq Bey then took the lead to 30 with a 3-pointer two minutes into the second half.

Donovan Sims scored 18 points and C.J. Jones had 16 for the Blue Raiders (3-2). Leading scorer Antonio Green, averaging 23.5 points going into the game, finished with four points on 1-of-7 shooting while dealing with foul trouble.

“They’ve got a lot of interchangeable parts, so they were switching just to never let him see space,” McDevitt said.