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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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Men’s basketball recap: ups and downs in Lange’s second year

The Hawks will return all but three players from this year’s roster for next season. PHOTO: MITCHELL SHIELDS ’22/THE HAWK

In a pandemic-marred season that was expected to be unusual, the St. Joe’s men’s basketball team faced more variables than they imagined. 

A 5-15 final record pales to reflect the true capabilities of a team that played well against some of college basketball’s premier programs early in the season and won four of its games in the Atlantic 10 (A-10). However, the potential that the team had was diminished by injuries to key players and two seperate COVID-19 related pauses. 

“We don’t make excuses,” Head Coach Billy Lange said in a press conference on March 4. “But this team never really had a chance to get started.”

The Hawks opened the season on Thanksgiving Day in the Rocket Mortgage Fort Myers Tip Off Classic, where they fell in overtime to Auburn University, a Final Four team in 2019, by a score of 96-91. The following day, St. Joe’s held a second half lead against the University of Kansas, a perennial college basketball powerhouse, before the Jayhawks pulled away for a 94-72 victory. After competitive performances against power conference opponents, it looked as though the Hawks were set to make significant strides from the 2019-20 season in which they finished 6-26.

“We played two great games in Fort Myers, and I thought we could be a top four team in our league,” Lange said. “The team that played against Kansas didn’t practice together for one more day after that and we never had the same team.”

On Nov. 30, the Hawks entered a 14-day quarantine period because of a positive COVID-19 test. After the team returned, they lost to city rivals Drexel University 81-77 and Villanova University 88-66. On Dec. 21, in a game against the University of Tennessee, A-10 preseason second team selection Ryan Daly, a senior guard, injured his hand and missed the next 10 contests. In that time, the Hawks went 1-9 and allowed their opponents to score 78.9 points per game, which ranks as the worst in the A-10. 

Redshirt sophomore guard Greg Foster Jr., sophomore guard Jack Forrest and senior forward Anthony Longpré all missed time during that stretch of games. Foster was out due to personal reasons, Forrest because of a foot injury and Longpré due to a lower body injury.

“When some [team] loses a player for injury or illness, fans think about how it affects their offense and no one thinks about how it impacts defense,” Lange said. “We lost great ball pressure in Greg Foster, we lost intelligence and rebounding in Ryan Daly, we lost rebounding in Jack Forrest.”

The Hawks were 1-14 and sat in last place in the A-10 standings when Daly returned to action after his extended injury absence. In his first game in nearly two months, Daly scored 30 points and led St. Joe’s to a 91-82 overtime win over Big 5 foe La Salle University on Feb. 20. 

“[Daly] kind of makes things run here,” redshirt junior forward Taylor Funk said during the press conference. “We like when the ball is in his hands because he can score and find open players. Once he came back, it just started clicking again.”

The Hawks then rattled off two straight wins to close the regular season: a 97-84 victory over the University of Dayton behind a 36 point effort from Funk and a 76-73 win at the University of Richmond. 

“We went into do or die mode the day after the Dayton game,” Lange said. “We knew Richmond had to win that game to keep their at-large hopes. I felt like we got our players in a space where they know there is no tomorrow.”

The Hawks entered the A-10 postseason tournament with renewed spirit and momentum. In a first round rematch against La Salle less than 48 hours after its defeat of Richmond, the Hawks turned in one of their best defensive performances of the season, holding the Explorers to 66 points, the second fewest for an opponent this season for the Hawks, in a six point win. 

“We packed the paint on the guys that weren’t going to beat us from the 3-point line,” Daly said in a postgame press conference after the Hawks defeated the Explorers. “We always had people in the paint to protect the rim because they’re a driving team at heart.”

Inevitably, the clock struck midnight for St. Joe’s late season resurgence in the second round of the A-10 tournament. The Minutemen from the University of Massachusetts hit 12 first half 3-pointers en route to a 100-66 whalloping of the Hawks. 

“They couldn’t miss from three and we didn’t shoot well from three,” Funk said. “They can switch one through five [on defense]. We kind of struggle with that.”

After the game, Daly confirmed that he will not exercise the additional year of eligibility that was granted to all Division I basketball players at the beginning of the year and will pursue professional basketball opportunities, either in America or abroad.

“To wear St. Joe’s across my chest is a dream come true,” Daly said. “I feel like I got a lot of new family members so it’s definitely been a great three years for me.”

Lange said Daly was a crucial part of laying the foundation for the new chapter of the St. Joe’s men’s basketball program.

“Having [Daly] here for two years with that passion and that competitiveness while we built a new era of St. Joe’s basketball was truly a blessing,” Lange said.

Looking forward to next season, Lange said that the program is still in its building stage with brand new players. He hopes that this season will provide a young nucleus of returning players with valuable experience. 

“I think that these guys had to grow up,” Lange said. “The concentration that it takes to have a scouting plan, lift and watch film every day, watch what you eat every day. There was no grace period for them. What I’m hoping is that they take a leadership role in the culture we’re trying to build here at St. Joe’s.”

While St. Joe’s brings in only one high school recruit in the class of 2021, guard Erik Reynolds, St. Joe’s highest ranked men’s basketball recruit in 10 years, Lange emphasized the importance of “roster optimization,” hinting that the 2021 roster may not be finalized if the Hawks choose to pursue transfers.

“We still have more pieces that we need to add,” Lange said. “We have scholarships available and we want to make sure that we bring the right guys.”

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