On the day in which they were honored at half court prior to tip-off, St. Joe’s seniors delivered a dominant performance, ensuring they would be college basketball players for at least one more game.
Garrett Williamson led all scorers with 18 points, including 10-10 from the free throw line, and Darrin Govens added 14 first half points and 17 on the game to lead the Hawks to a 74-59 win.
“We approached this game like a playoff game,” Williamson said. “It was either win or go home. I feel like we came out here with a mature approach, real methodical.”
The Hawks’ win assured them a spot in next week’s Atlantic 10 Tournament. They earned the 12th seed thanks to UMass’ upset of Rhode Island, which slotted the Minutemen into 11th in the final standings, and officially put an end to the Explorers’ season. The Hawks will likely travel to fifth-seeded Rhode Island for their first round game.
“The biggest thing was that they had purpose, and they didn’t get caught in the moment of senior day,” said St. Joe’s Head Coach Phil Martelli. “We’re playing an Atlantic 10 game. We’re getting a chance to play in a big game, and everyone knows the year we’ve had, you wouldn’t anticipate we’d be playing a big game, and we took advantage of that chance. And the seniors led the way.”
Both teams traded baskets early and were tied three times in the game’s first five and a half minutes. But a Todd O’Brien lay-up put the Hawks up 9-7 with 14:04 left and gave them a lead they wouldn’t surrender. Govens got hot late in the half, hitting four threes to key a 15-5 spurt in just over three minutes to push the margin as high as 11 heading into the break.
The Explorers cut into the lead after halftime, getting as close as four on two separate occasions thanks in large part of four three-pointers by Kimmani Barrett. That’s the closest they would get, however, as the Hawks converted 13 of 17 attempts from the foul line in the second half to win going away.
Joining the Hawks’ backcourt tandem in double-figures was Carl Jones, who had 16 big points off the bench, and Idris Hilliard with a double-double of 13 points and 10 rebounds.
The Hawks relied on their zone defense throughout the game, the only time Martelli can recall using a zone throughout a home game in his St. Joe’s career. The zone helped nullify the Explorers height and length advantage, put a clamp on Rodney Green’s superb play-making ability at the point, and forced the Explorers into 30 attempts from three-point range, only 10 of which were converted.
“When the other team’s in man, you can run certain things and do certain things to put Rodney in the right situations,” said La Salle head coach Dr. John Giannini. “But against zone, you have to move the ball and find open people, which means now Rod’s one of five guys as opposed to a guy that you could really go to to take advantage of his abilities to make a play.”
Barrett led the Explorers with 15 points on 5-10 shooting from three-point range. He was a surprise inclusion in the starting lineup after missing the last 14 games with a foot injury, and responded well it what would turn out to be his final collegiate game.
Rodney Green added 12 points, seven rebounds, and six assists on a quiet day by his lofty standards. Jerrell Williams added nine points, while Yves Mekongo, another senior recovering from injury just in time to play today, finished with eight points. Both he and Barrett fouled out.
Their late inclusion in the lineup did nothing to change the Hawks’ preparation, as Martelli had planned to use a zone scheme all week.
The Hawks took care of the ball today, a weakness all season, with only four turnovers against 14 assists. They were able to turn the Explorers over 13 times, and won the battle on the boards by a 34-32 margin. They were the better team from the line down the stretch, finishing 22-32 on the game (68.8 percent) while limiting the Explorers to just 10 attempts from the charity stripe.
– Matthew De George ’10