Expectations, energy soaring again on Hawk Hill

Expectations, energy soaring again on Hawk Hill

PHILADELPHIA (AP) Wanting to have some fun on Twitter, Saint Joseph's guard Carl Jones decided to send a message to Jameer Nelson, only the greatest player to wear a uniform on Hawk Hill.

``I'm coming for that scoring record big homie,'' (at)tayj35 sent to (at)JameerNelson in September.

Nelson, an Orlando Magic guard, urged Jones to ``go get it youngfella!!'' Nelson wasn't finished, either. He ended the tweet by reminding Jones that players are judged at Saint Joseph's by more than the individual records they leave behind. They have to win, just like Nelson did when he was the AP College Basketball Player of the Year and led the Hawks to a regional final in 2004.

``Records are made to be broken,'' Nelson wrote. ``But you gotta win while u break them.''

Jones and the rest of the Hawks are poised to do plenty of winning this season. There's a buzz building on Hawk Hill over an experienced and talented team that was the preseason favorite to win a revamped Atlantic 10 and appears set to return to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2008.

The consecutive 11-win seasons were left behind when Jones, Langston Galloway and C.J Aiken keyed the Hawks' leap from 22 losses in 2010-11 to a 20-14 mark and an NIT berth last season. Under coach Phil Martelli, the Hawks were one of nine teams to win 20 games a year after losing 20.

Martelli, entering his 18th season with 320 career wins, has his best team since Nelson and Delonte West led the Hawks to a 30-2 mark in 2003-04.

Saint Joseph's returns all five starters, most notably Aiken, the 6-foot-9 forward who was named the conference's defensive player of the year and was fifth in the nation in blocked shots (3.53). Galloway led the A-10 in 3-point shooting (47 percent) and Jones, the only senior in the starting lineup, led the Hawks in scoring each of the last two seasons. Throw in returning A-10 sixth man of the year, Ronald Roberts Jr., and it's easy to see why the Hawks were picked to win the conference for the first time since 2004-05 - and a year after they were picked seventh (and finished fifth).

``I don't run from it when we're 12th,'' Martelli said. ``And I don't run to it when we're picked first.''

Martelli never hid from the critics, even as the losses piled up, and another March would go by with the Hawks sitting at home. Temple and Villanova surged ahead as the city's basketball powers, winning conference titles, making regular NCAA trips, and scarfing up some of Philly's top recruits (Lavoy Allen, Maalik Wayns) all while the Hawks posted modest-to-lousy regular seasons as that 2004 burst became a distant memory.

Yes, 2004 was a triumph (27 straight wins, reached No. 1 in the AP poll, was a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament) but it set a benchmark for success few programs could ever expect to match. The season still hangs over the program, with Martelli even asked at a recent media day how this seasons' team compares to Nelson, West and crew. Martelli never hesitated, offering a simple, ``It's not comparable.''

Martelli, though, never wavered in his approach to finding another exciting core of team-first players, even as the call for a fresh voice on the bench grew bolder on anonymous message boards or from disgruntled boosters.

``I understand their passion and I understand their disappointment,'' Martelli said. ``But in a moment of clarity, step back and think if they're any more disappointed or any more upset than the coaches. That's my livelihood. I don't ever want these players to ever leave and say, `That wasn't worth it.'''

The only letdown last season was the fact the Hawks feel like they let an NCAA bid slip away with some bad losses down the stretch. Martelli also pointed out the Hawks led at some point in the second half of 11 of their 14 losses, leads a more veteran team might not let get away.

``We spent a lot of the postseason walking around with our heads down, mumbling,'' Martelli said. ``I wanted them to be disappointed that we didn't get more, that we were unfulfilled, but I also wanted them to hold their chest out, stick their head high in the air, look at our history and tell me how many times we won 20 games.''

Saint Joseph's received 11 first-place votes and 434 points from the panel of A-10 coaches and media. Saint Louis, Temple, Massachusetts; and VCU and Butler - new additions to the A-10 and recent Final Four teams - are all in the mix for the top spot. Six teams earned first-place votes.

``I haven't had to bring them down off a mountain or from the clouds,'' Martelli said.

But he could lead them deep into March.

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Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

Ovechkin scores again, Capitals win fifth straight 4-3 over Buffalo

CAPITAL ONE ARENA — To hear Alex Ovechkin tell it, Saturday night was a rough one for him.

“I have pretty good chances, but today, it was not my day,” Ovechkin said. “You can't score every night."

You wonder if Ovechkin watched the contest he just played in. He scored a goal for the sixth game in a row in a 4-3 shootout win against the Buffalo Sabres. He had a game-high eight shots on goal. He set a new career-high point scoring streak (14 games). He had the goal that proved to be the winner in the shootout. He leads the NHL with 29 goals and no one else is even close. Things are going pretty well. 

“Such a threat, especially when he’s confident and he’s shooting the puck where he wants,” teammate Brett Connolly said. “[Ovechkin is] a bull out there, it seems like he keeps getting better and better every year. Such a hungriness to score goals. He’s having a hell of a season and it doesn’t look like he’s going to slow down. We’ve got to as a team really rally around that. When he’s playing that well you want to have guys really look at that and take it another level and fall in behind that.” 

Only five players age 33 or older have had a longer point streak than Ovechkin’s 14 games. His next goal will secure his 14th30-goal season. He has 23 points during this stretch (17 goals, six assists). You run out of superlatives. 

The same goes for his team. On the heels of a hat trick in Carolina on Friday, Ovechkin helped Washington to its fifth win in a row. The Capitals are 13-3 in their past 16 games and swept a back-to-back set with the Hurricanes and Sabres. Washington is 20-9-3 and with 43 points is six up on second place Columbus in the Metropolitan Division and seven ahead of third-place Pittsburgh. 

Things weren’t perfect on Saturday. The Sabres scored twice on the power play to make it 3-2 before Ovechkin tied it with a booming slap shot after a turnover at 13:46 of the second period. Pheonix Copley stopped 25 of 28 shots subbing for No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby, but the penalty kill continues to tank. 

Buffalo scored twice on the power play to take the lead and the first goal of the game by rising star Jack Eichel came exactly two minutes after a Michal Kempny penalty. You can count that as another if you’d like. Close as it gets. Considering Washington coach Todd Reirden put Chandler Stephenson back into the lineup Saturday because of his prowess on the PK, that’s a bad sign. 

So there are things to work on. But the Capitals are in a good position in the standings. Their stars are scoring. Their injury situation has improved somewhat with defenseman Brooks Orpik on the way by the end of the month. It’s only mid December and there are 50 games to go and things can change in a heartbeat and the playoffs seem forever away. But, for now anyway, life is good.      

“It wasn’t an easy night, but definitely we worked for those last two win,” Connolly said. “It’s a lot of fun right now. Everyone is having fun, everyone is positive and happy. It’s always so much better when you’re winning.” 


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4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

4 reasons the Washington Capitals beat the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout

Both Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals extended their streaks on Saturday in a 4-3 shootout win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ovechkin's second period goal extended his point streak to 14 games, a career best, and Washington notched its fifth straight win.

Here are four reasons the Caps won.

A quick response

Similar to Friday’s game in Carolina, the Caps yielded the first goal very early into the game as Jack Eichel scored less than three minutes in. Just 58 seconds later, however, Brett Connolly erased the deficit with a goal set up by the hard work of Devante Smith-Pelly.

Buffalo goalie Carter Hutton went to retrieve a puck behind the net, but Smith-Pelly pressured him on the forecheck and stole it away. He passed it to Connolly in front and he had an easy layup with Hutton out of the net.

Alex Ovechkin

He did it again.

You would think at this point there was nothing more Ovechkin could do to wow us, but you would be wrong. Though he did not continue his hat trick streak, Ovechkin did in fact extend his point streak to a career-high 14 games with a second period strike that tied the game at three.

Orlov broke up a breakout by Buffalo in the offensive zone and Nicklas Backstrom uickly fired a beautiful pass through traffic to find a wheeling Ovechkin who had plenty of time and space for the wind up to beat Hutton.

Ovechkin now has 17 goals and six assists over the 14-game streak. His goal was his league-leading 29th of the season.

As if that wasn’t enough, Ovechkin also scored the game-winner in the shootout.

Evgeny Kuznetsov

All eyes are on Ovechkin and his point streak, but Kuznetov is putting together a nice little point streak of his own. With an assist on Jakub Vrana’s first period goal, Kuznetsov extended his point streak to eight games. He has one goal and nine assists in that stretch. Kuznetsov also scored in the shootout.

A horrible miss

With about a minute left in the game and the score tied at 3, Sam Reinhart had the game on his stick. Jeff Skinner skated in to a sharp angle and fired a shot up high on Copley. Copley stopped it, but couldn’t control it and the puck rebound fell to Reinhart in the slot with an empty net yawning. Reinhart tried to fire the bouncing puck into the net, but instead hit it off the post behind a helpless Copley. Vrana got his stick down in a desperate attempt to block the shot, but it looked like he did not get a piece of it, Reinhart just could not control the puck enough to hit it home and score what would have almost certainly been the game-winning goal.