PHILADELPHIA — Before its game against Massachusetts on Saturday, Saint Joseph’s honored the 2003-04 Hawks squad that went to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament.
Then the current group of Hawks went out and showed why they could be the best team seen on Hawk Hill since Jameer Nelson and Delonte West led the team deep into March Madness.
Halil Kanacevic led the way with 18 points, Ronald Roberts added 17 and Saint Joseph’s won for the sixth time in its last seven games, 73-68, over No. 19 Massachusetts.
It certainly wasn’t easy.
When Chaz Williams picked off a pass and fed it to Derrick Gordon for a layup with 1:24 remaining in the game, the double-digit lead that Saint Joseph’s held for much of the game was completely gone.
After SJU guard Langston Galloway made one free throw, Williams responded with the first of two free throws before missing the second. The rebound was batted around for a few tense seconds before winding up in the hands of Chris Wilson, who sunk two from the line to put the Hawks up 70-68 with 30.1 seconds remaining.
Gordon then drove the baseline but coughed it up, putting SJU junior forward Papa Ndao on the line with 12.6 ticks left in regulation. Ndao hit both to make it a four-point game, and following a missed UMass 3-pointer, Galloway would make 1-of-2 to provide for the final score.
Saint Joseph’s used the long ball effectively in the first half against Massachusetts, hitting five three-point shots to take a 41-25 lead at halftime in front of a sold-out crowd.
That 16-point advantage that the Hawks held at the break was larger than any they held in the teams’ previous meeting, a 66-62 Minutemen win at UMass on Jan. 8. In that one, SJU was up by as many as nine in the second half before UMass clamped down on defense, ending the game on a 13-3 run to steal the victory.
For a few minutes, it looked like recent history was bound to repeat itself. This time, however, Saint Joseph’s was able to hang on.
The loss continues a tough skid for Massachusetts, which had been ranked as high as No. 13 in the poll two weeks ago. The Minutemen lost for the third time in their last four games, part of a stretch that had them playing away from the Mullins Memorial Center for the fifth time in six games.
Saint Joseph’s resumes Atlantic 10 play on Wednesday, when Saint Louis comes to town. Massachusetts will try to get back to winning ways on the same day when it welcomes the other Philadelphia A-10 school, La Salle, to town.
NOTES: Massachusetts redshirt senior Chaz Williams and Saint Joseph’s redshirt senior Halil Kanacevic were both freshmen together at Hofstra during the 2009-10 season before transferring to their current schools that offseason. … The Hawks are one of six teams in the country with three players who have 1,000 career points or more (G Langston Galloway, F Halil Kanacevic, F Ronald Roberts, Jr.). …Massachusetts junior forward Maxie Esho had to be taken to the locker room with just under five minutes remaining in first half after hitting his head while going for a rebound.
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