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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

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A moment in SJU Athletics: the Holy War

The Holy War dates back as far as 1921, which marks the first matchup between St. Joe’s and Villanova. PHOTOS COURTESY OF SJU ATHLETICS

Since The Hawk is unable to bring our readers typical sports coverage due to the coronavirus pandemic, we want to reflect on sports highlights from years past. This week’s edition highlights the “Holy War” rivalry between the St. Joe’s and Villanova  University’s men’s basketball teams.

Since the first game between the institutions in 1921, there has always been a friendly disdain for the Augustinian university located just a short seven mile trip northwest on East Lancaster Avenue. The Villanova Wildcats men’s basketball program, especially after its successes in recent years, lives in the minds of fanatical Hawk supporters, many of whom were old enough to remember when the rivalry was at its most competitive. 

In the past two-and-a-half decades, however, the Hawks have only won five of the last 24 matchups against the Wildcats. St. Joe’s fired Phil Martelli, the coach and longtime face of the program, in 2019, while the Wildcats captured two national championships in three years from 2016-18.

Right now, the two programs could not be in more different places. St. Joe’s is in the midst of a rebuilding period, while Villanova is a perennial powerhouse program that is reloading year in and year out. The Wildcats hold an eight game winning streak against the Hawks, the longest in the history of the rivalry. 

However, this contrast only validates the rivalry’s significance. It doesn’t matter where the programs are, nor what the result of the previous year was. Every year, the St. Joe’s fanbase will approach the annual game versus the Wildcats with the same unrelenting passion and “The Hawk Will Never Die” spirit. 

The following highlights are important moments from the rivalry’s history.

Early History:

In the first sold-out game of the rivalry’s history on Feb. 12, 1958, the Saint Joseph’s College Hawks, coached by Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer Jack Ramsay, defeated the Wildcats 86-82 in overtime. Since then, every iteration of the series has sold out, regardless of venue.

Mike Pinto ’59, The Hawk:

“Three field goals and a foul conversion by McNeill and a two pointer by Clarke sandwiched between a foul toss by Villanova’s Tom Brennan gave the Hawks a five point bulge with 2:20 remaining. McNeill converted two more foul tosses but foul conversions by Brennan and Jack Kelly and a long one hand stab by Joe Ryan were good enough to tie the score seconds before the final buzzer sounded.

Spratt, Hoffacker, and McNeill provided the fire power for the City Liners in the five minute overtime period as Jack Ramsay’s squad rolled up a six point lead, coasting to its second City Series victory in three starts.”

The 1980s:

The 1980s was the most competitive and evenly matched decade of the rivalry, with six Villanova victories in the decade compared to St Joe’s four. 

On Feb. 15, 1985, Villanova defeated St. Joe’s in a low-scoring game, 47-44 at the Spectrum in Philadelphia. With the score tied at 44, St. Joe’s successfully held the ball for the last three minutes of the game in an attempt to take the final shot of the contest, only to miss within the final 10 seconds. Villanova guard Dwayne McClain rebounded the ball, and then made an 18 foot jump while being fouled with two seconds left to give the Wildcats the win. The Wildcats went on to win the national championship that year with a win over Georgetown in what is widely considered one of the biggest upsets in college basketball history.

Donna Chesla, sports editor:

“Spectrum Official Jim Forte signaled a blocking call against Owens before McClain had gotten a shot off; that would have awarded him a one-and-one. On the game’s tape which was reviewed after the game, it showed McClain taking a dribble and then getting hit by Owens. Forte then appeared to signal a block. The tape continues, showing McClain taking another step, setting the ball loose and Forte then signaling the goal good. And what did Forte have to say about his quick change of mind? No comment.”

The 1990s:

In the 1990s, the teams only played on six occasions, as “the significance of the Big 5 diminished with changes in the structure of college basketball and the expansion of the Big East and Atlantic 10 conferences,” according to Penn Today. The round-robin city series ended in 1991, but was revived in 1999.

On Dec. 18, 1994, the Hawks rallied from 10 points down to defeat the #22 Wildcats, led by future NBA player Kerry Kittles, 60-57 in a game that celebrated the 40th anniversary of the city series. Junior guard Mark Bass netted a 3-pointer with two minutes left to give St. Joe’s a three point lead. Bass and senior guard Bernard Blunt led the team with 13 points each, and senior forward Carlin Warley added nine points and 14 rebounds.                                                                   

The Palestra has played home to many historic  Holy War matchups including this one in 2003.


The 2000s:

The 2000s saw the two programs reach levels of success unprecedented in their respective histories. St. Joe’s captured a  #1 ranking in the AP Top 25 Poll for the first and only time in school history after a 27-0 start to the 2003-04 season. Villanova reached a school record of seven consecutive NCAA tournaments, including a Final Four appearance in 2009. 

Over the course of the decade, St. Joe’s and Villanova produced notable NBA players, including Jameer Nelson and Delonte West from St. Joe’s and Kyle Lowry and Randy Foye from Villanova, with Nelson and Foye each earning first-team All-American honors in their respective college careers.

On Feb. 3, 2003, St. Joe’s defeated the Wildcats 93-75 after a 40-9 run to begin the contest. Junior guard Jameer Nelson, an All-American candidate at the time, scored a game high of 30 points, and sophomore guard Delonte West scored 11 of his 25 points over a five minute stretch in the first half. 

Brendan Quinn ’05, Hawk sportswriter:

“Following last year’s disgraceful 102-73 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats, Martelli felt the heat more than ever, but he used the painful loss to inspire his Hawks in this season’s affair.

‘Coach played a clip of the last minute [of last season’s game] after film,’ Hawk All-American Candidate Jameer Nelson said. ‘He played it and just let it run….It hurt me to see that.’

 Maybe it was the sour taste left in the mouths of the Hawks after viewing the tape or maybe the inspiration of the raucous student body, but Saint Joseph’s would not allow a repeat of last season’s debacle.”

The 2010s:

The last 10 years of the rivalry have been the most lopsided. Villanova has won nine out of the last 10 contests, and the only St. Joe’s victory came in a 74-58 win over the Wildcats in 2011 at Hagan Arena. In the last eight meetings, the Wildcats have defeated the Hawks by an average of 21.2 points. In year two of the Billy Lange era on Hawk Hill, the program will look to start the new decade with a signature victory over the Wildcats.



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