By Sean Kennedy
Saint Joseph’s 75, La Salle 64
They won’t be overtaking Villanova, but St. Joe’s is positioning itself as the 2nd-best team in the city this season, and more importantly, continuing to build a resume for an NCAA tournament berth. Against La Salle, the Hawks shot 49% from the field, featuring a balanced attack that saw all five starters reach double figures. As usual, big man Halil Kanacevic did a little bit of everything, collecting 6 rebounds, 6 assists, and 4 blocks to go with his 10 points. The Hawks’ DeAndre Bembry scored 7 straight points as part of a 9-0 St. Joe’s run in the second to push the lead to a game-high 16 points.
The Explorers received a great effort from forward Jerrell Wright, who finished with a team-high 16 points and 15 rebounds. 9 of those boards were on the offensive end, as Wright worked hard to collect a number of errant La Salle shots, as the team was just 38% from the field on the afternoon. Tyreek Duren chipped in with 15 points on 6-9 shooting, but it wasn’t enough for an Explorers team with just 3 players in double figures. Now having lost 6 of 7 games, La Salle will hit the road for two games next week. Meanwhile, the Hawks are one game out of second place in the A-10, and have games against bottom-dwellers Rhode Island and Fordham upcoming.
Brown 62, Pennsylvania 55
The Quakers were flying high following their weekend sweep of Cornell and Columbia, but like Icarus coming to close to the sun, they fallen back down to Earth after losing to Yale, and now, the Brown Bears. Penn actually had a 4-point lead with under 5 minutes remaining in this game, but as has too often been the case this season, the Quakers unraveled down the stretch. A 15-4 run by Brown propelled them past Penn as the boys from University City fell back below .500 in conference play.
Penn got some solid play down low, as the team out-rebounded the Bears 38-31. Darien Nelson-Henry had arguably his best game as a collegiate, with a team-high 20 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 blocks. However, poor perimeter shooting and an inability to take care of the basketball doomed the Quakers. Penn shot just 1-13 from behind the arc and turned the ball over a whopping 22 times. The Quakers have the talent to beat teams of Brown’s caliber, but not if they’re beating themselves in the process.
2:00 PM: Temple (6-17, 1-10 AAC) vs. SMU (20-5, 9-3 AAC) – CBS Sports Network
Larry Brown returns to the city where he coached professionally for 6 seasons, leading a Mustangs program that he’s helped bring back into national prominence. SMU is ranked for the first time since 1985, having won 9 of 10 games, including a shellacking of the Owls two weeks ago. The Mustangs sport the 2nd-best field goal percentage defense in the nation, and that stingy defense was on full effect in the first contest, as Temple shot a season-low 30% from the field.
With the Owls having lost 12 of 13 games, there’s no reason to think things will be much different in Sunday’s rematch. Leading scorer Dalton Pepper is coming off just a 7-point effort against Louisville, the first time in his last 11 games he failed to reach double figures. The Owls will need Pepper to regain his stroke to have any chance against Larry Brown’s squad.
5:00 PM: Villanova (22-2, 10-1 Big East) @ Creighton (20-4, 10-2 Big East) – Fox Sports 1
We’ve finally arrived: the game every Villanova fan has been waiting for ever since Creighton went supernova from behind the arc and served the Wildcats their only conference loss of the year. As you might recall, if your mind didn’t block out such a painful memory, the Blue Jays hit a school-record 21 threes to blow out Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center. Now they’ll wage war in Creighton’s home nest, where the Blue Jays haven’t lost all season.
I’m sure coach Jay Wright has instilled in his players not to leave big man Ethan Wragge alone at any time. Wragge tied a school-record with 9 threes in the last meeting, even stealing the thunder of Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott, who had 5 threes for 23 points himself. The Wildcats have won 6 straight games since that loss and are playing their best ball of the season on both ends. There’s no way the Blue Jays can be as hot from the perimeter as they were back in January; there’s little chance of another blowout here and expect the Wildcats to earn some sweet revenge.
8:00 PM: Drexel (13-11, 5-6 CAA) vs. Hofstra (8-18, 4-7 CAA)
Yet again, Drexel has to rebound coming off a heart-breaking loss, but with two starters now out for the season, doing so will be a tall task. One thing in the Dragons’ favor is that Hostra has lost 6 of their past 7 games, with a loss to Drexel over that span. In the Dragons’ 3-point victory, Frantz Massenat had a huge performance with a career-high 32 points and 9 assists. The Pride have struggled all season on both ends of the court, shooting just 41% from the field and allowing opponents to hit 37% from three against them.
Hofstra’s three-point defense should play a big role in this contest; Massenat and Chris Fouch hit 10 threes between them in the earlier meeting between these squads and the Dragons will need the backcourt to carry the offensive load again. Of course, Drexel was 0-9 last game from downtown in their loss to Charleston so they’ll have to block that most recent performance out of their minds. We’ll see if the Dragons have enough firepower left or if injuries have just left them too depleted.