By Sean Kennedy
Massachusetts 66, Saint Joseph’s 62
It certainly looked as though the Hawks were on the way to secure that marquee win currently missing from their resume. Despite the loss in the game of Ronald Roberts, Jr. to back spasms, the trio of Kanacevic, Bembry, and Galloway had carried St. Joe’s to a 9-point lead with just outside of 6 minutes remaining. Kanacevic, particularly, stepped up on the scoring end with a team-high 19 points, to go along with his usual well-rounded game (13 rebounds and 6 assists). However, as we’ve unfortunately seen too often in recent years, things fell apart down the stretch for the Hawks, with the Minutemen rallying to close the game on an 18-5 run, squashing any hopes of a road upset for the boys from Philly.
During the comeback, Massachusetts dialed up the full-court press and helped contribute to a season-high 17 turnovers from the Hawks. The minute (he’s just 5’9″) Minuteman Chaz Williams dropped 8 of his game-high 22 points during the stretch, and played some aggressive defense to deny Langston Galloway the ball in the closing minutes. Freshman DeAndre Bembry (whose afro-beard combo is looking sweeter by the day) was huge in the Hawks for this one, dropping 16 points on 7-11 shooting, including a hellacious dunk over Cady Lalanne in the open court. But with his squad holding on to a one-point lead, he had his pocket picked by Maxie Esho while bringing the ball up, and the ensuing Esho flush completed the comeback for the Minutemen. Their final possessions consisted of a less than ideal three point look for Galloway (who was terrific throughout with 18 points) and an awkward three from Papa Ndao (who had only attempted 6 threes on the season). The loss was a huge missed opportunity for the Hawks, and something tells me they will look back on this night and shake their heads with regret come March.
William & Mary 85, Drexel 73
If you’re the Dragons, it’s extremely difficult to get things rolling again when you keep losing starters. Before the game, it was announced Kazembe Abif would be out with a knee issue, and then in the first half, Dartaye Ruffin went down with some sort of leg issue and later returned to the court on crutches. Without both starting forwards (and of course with Damion Lee still out for the season), the Dragons were down to 2 opening-night starters and that was not nearly enough against William & Mary Wednesday night.
The Tribe made 8 threes in the first half to jump out to a 16-point halftime lead; they finished the game shooting over 50% from the field behind that hot shooting and the lack of an interior defensive presence from Drexel with both starting big men felled by injury. The Drexel guards gamely kept their squad within reasonable striking distance as Frantz Massenat finished with 19 points, and Tavon Allen and Chris Fouch had 18 a piece. However, even though the better shooting night was encouraging, it’s tough to see Drexel turning this season around unless they get healthy in a hurry.
Villanova 83, Seton Hall 67
With many of their City 6 brethren dealing with big injury concerns, Villanova actually had the advantage of facing an opponent dealing with such a shorthanded roster. As we mentioned before the game, leading rebounder Gene Teague is out indefinitely for the Pirates with a concussion, and Seton Hall was also without their bench sparkplug Fuquan Edwin, who sat this contest with a minor knee injury. No team missing two key players is going to topple the Wildcats right now, not the way they’ve been shooting the ball lately.
Villanova was on fire from behind the arc, hitting 12 of 23 threes, led by Darrun Hilliard draining 4-5 for a team-high 19 points. JayVaughn Pinkston was Mr. Consistent once again with 17 points and 6 rebounds, and Ryan Arcidiacono had his best shooting performance in a few weeks, hitting 3 threes to finish with 14 points. Brian Oliver did everything he could to keep Seton Hall around, sinking 6 threes for a game-high 20 points, but Villanova’s deep roster kept throwing different weapons at them and hounding the Pirates into 16 turnovers with their pressure defense. The Wildcats have proven themselves time and time again this season against stiff competition, so no harm in catching a break against an undermanned opponent in this contest.
7:00 PM: Temple (5-7, 0-2 AAC) vs. South Florida (9-6, 0-2 AAC) – ESPNU
Injuries and inconsistent defense have plagued the Owls on their recent skid, as they’ve lost 4 of their past 5 games including their first two contests in the new American Athletic. Temple will look for that important first conference win when they host a South Florida team in a tailspin of their own. The Bulls have also lost 4 of their last 5, and while they have not played a difficult schedule, they’ve even been fortunate to get many of their wins, with their last 5 victories all by 4 points or less. Unlike the Owls, though, the problem for South Florida has been on the offensive end, where an abysmal 26% mark from behind the arc (3rd-worst in the country) has been spacing difficult.
Forward Victor Rudd (15.7 ppg) and guard Corey Allen Jr. (11.9 ppg) have paced the Bulls this season, but have not done so efficiently; Temple should be able to pack the paint and come away with more defensive stops than we’ve seen of late from them. More interesting will be what Will Cummings does for an encore after his career-high 31-point effort against UCF. If he can keep rolling, and the Owls’ other consistent scoring options like Pepper, DeCosey, and Lee all show up, I see no reason why the Owls shouldn’t find themselves back on the positive side of the ledger after tonight’s contest.
8:00 PM: La Salle (7-6, 0-0 A-10) vs. George Washington (12-2, 0-0 A-10) – NBC Sports Network
The Explorers enter conference play looking to shake off their up-and-down start to the season and begin playing at a consistently high level. They’ll have a rough first opponent to do so in the Colonials, who have conference title aspirations after a strong non-conference run that saw them topple some difficult opponents in Miami, Creighton, and Maryland. Senior swingman Maurice Creek paces George Washington at 16 ppg, shooting an efficient 47% from the field and 42% from three. Creek was once an elite prospect for Indiana projected as a late first-round pick in the NBA draft. However, a series of tough injuries (kneecap, other knee, achilles) caused him to miss a ton of time and fall out of favor with the Hoosiers, and he’s now making the most of his additional year of eligibility while in graduate school at GW.
Three other players average in double figures as well for the Colonials, including Isaiah Armwood, who also anchors the back line, sitting top-40 in the country with 2.6 blocks per game. Philadelphia basketball fans may remember Armwood from his day with Villanova; he certainly appears to be enjoying his second season with the Colonials since the transfer. Facing a deep roster of transfers and home-grown talent, the Explorers haven’t sniffed beating an opponent on GW’s level this season, and there’s no reason to believe things will be any different tonight.