Turning a corner, but to where?

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. They don’t mention what happens on instance number seven.

That’s the position many St. Joe’s fans are in now (thought the estimate of seven is very low) after falling into the oh-so-familiar trap of buying into the heightened expectations that a handful of consecutive wins creates.

The loss to UMass was especially tough to swallow, as will be most from here on out, because the win over Dayton gave everyone a tantalizing view of what the Hawks are capable of. Yes, last night’s effort was tempered by the fatigue of three games in five days, something largely out of the team’s control. But the loss still stings, and you can’t help but think that if the circumstances were different, the result might have been as well.

After the Penn game, I went though a checklist of things that needed to happen for the St. Joe’s streak to continue. Here’s the report card from UMass:

Defensive intensity- clearly lacking and nowhere near up to par.

Darrin Govens- 4-11 from the field, 0-5 from three, four turnovers, nine points; exactly what they didn’t need.

Todd O’Brien- made his presence felt, at least in the first; rebounding could have been better. I’ll give it a plus.

Garrett Williamson- Tremendous. Period.

Idris Hilliard- 14 points, all in the second half; they can live with these kinds of outings from him.

Carl Jones and Justin Crosgile- 18 combined points; not enough.

That’s three out of six key factors completed, and two marginal pluses against two comprehensive minuses. Couple that with getting killed on the boards (something which has become a given) and a few key turnovers late, and it’s clear why the win went back to Amherst with UMass.

The team that played against UMass isn’t of the caliber of an 8-12 team, though they looked it at times. And this is a team that has turned some type of corner, even if it’s one that takes them towards merely a below average team. A hallmark of Phil Martelli’s teams is late-season improvement, and it seems this one is following suit. Where that improvement will lead is still unknown.

Maybe it’s unrealistic to assume that this team can pull its way back up to the .500 mark. And maybe postseason aspirations are ridiculous. But if there is anything to take solace in during this transitional season, it’s that this team is not the same squad that got waxed at Rhode Island, or the team that got hammered by Temple (though there’s more to that story still to write).

This team has shown resilience and fight when it easily could have folded. They’ve been punched in the chest several times this season, both during and after games. And they’re still standing and as steady as they’ve been in some time. It may seem premature to roll out the “Here’s what we can salvage” banner for a season that still has 10 games left, but this is a young team that is learning valuable lessons that may pay off down the road.

– Matthew De George ’10

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