BY JEREMY GOODE
(PHOTOS BY GEANINE JAMISON, VIDEOS BY JEREMY GOODE)
VILLANOVA, PA--For the first time since 2012, the Saint Joseph’s Hawks defeated the Villanova Wildcats in men’s basketball. For the first time since 2004, the Hawks were able to secure a win at Villanova.
On Nov. 29, Saint Joseph’s University traveled the six miles to Villanova like they do every other year, defeating the Wildcats 78-65 to send the Hawks to the Big 5 Championship game against Temple on Dec. 2.
The difference between this matchup and the 10 before in which SJU lost? The Hawks were able to shoot ungodly percentages from the floor, as they shot 57 percent from field goal range and 52 percent from beyond the arc. They also outshot the Wildcats from the field by 18 percent and a staggering 25 percent from three-point land.
“The teams that I coach forever are always going to walk this fine line of ‘that is an awful shot selection, I can’t believe the coach lets them do it’ to ‘man, these guys play beautiful basketball,’” SJU head coach Billy Lange said. “We communicate to them about decision making, but they have great confidence, they’re great players and sometimes we just have to get out of their way; we did a good job of that today.”
Led by Erik Reynolds II, Roman Catholic standouts Lynn Greer III, and Xzayvier Brown, the three guards combined for 55 of the Hawks 75 points, as Reynolds led the game in points with 24, and Brown scored his 16 off the bench.
From tipoff, the Hawks applied pressure from the three-point line, challenging the Wildcats to keep up on the night in which they honored Hall of Fame coach Jay Wright with his own named road outside of Finneran Pavilion. SJU concluded the first half shooting a glowing 61 percent from the field and 44 percent from three on seven made three pointers.
The Hawks stout shooting would give them an eight-point lead of 43-35 at the half, as they closed the last three minutes of the first half on a 9-3 run, really separating both teams for the first time all game. Part of the reason for this separation was Reynolds’ three-point shooting. He would finish the half with three baskets from beyond that line, while scoring 14 points. His shooting was effortless, and it seemed like anytime he had even a bit of space to get a shot off, he was shooting with most of his shots dropping through the basket.
“Every single game, I get all my confidence from my teammates,” Reynolds said. “They tell me all the time to ‘keep shooting, keep shooting,’ so, everything that I feel, everything that I get, all the credit goes to them.”
While Reynolds’ point holds true as to all eight Hawks who checked into the game, the distribution of the basketball could be credited most to Greer. After the first half, Greer had tallied six assists, several to Reynolds and Brown from beyond the arc. Throughout the second half, Greer used his upperclassman experience to lead in scoring, finishing with 15 points and adding an assist to end the game with seven.
St. Joe's junior guard Erik Reynolds II led the game with 24 points in victory over Villanova. (Photo/ Geanine Jamison for PSD)
St. Joe's junior guard and Roman Catholic grad Lynn Greer III scored 15 points in Big 5 win over Villanova. (Photo/ Geanine Jamison for PSD)
“They’re great guards,” Greer said. “Just having those guys behind me and knowing that they can knock down shots, is a big plus for me.”
While early in the first half was back and forth, with SJU pulling away towards the end of the half, the second half was all about the Hawks holding onto their lead. Throughout the game, it appeared the Hawks flirted with zone defense. Towards the last half of the second half, the Hawks completely turned to zone defense.
The final 10 minutes saw major scoring droughts for the Wildcats. Most notable was that from the 4:33 minute mark until the end of the game to 1:25, Villanova went scoreless. While down 67-58 at the start of their scoring drought, the Hawks were able to extend their lead to 74-57 with 1:25 remaining, and many Villanova fans continued to find their way to the exits. It would not help the Wildcats that it would take them about four and a half minutes to get on the scoreboard in the second half.
Lange would credit the zone defense they put in place to stop any late Villanova run, which helped them ultimately secure a major Big 5 win for the Saint Joseph’s basketball program.
“So much of what is determined to be effective or smart is based on the result,” Lange said. “So, if they [Villanova] made a couple of those shots, it might not have been the smartest move… but we shared the ball, there was a segment in the game where I felt like it was sticking… when you’re scoring, it helps you set the zone up and puts pressure."
The Hawks would score 22 points in the final nine minutes of the contest, helping them transition on frustrating the Wildcats if their zone defense.
What makes the Hawks difficult to beat is that Brown gives them a third guard who can really score. A true freshman, Brown stepped up like a veteran, shooting 6-9 from the field, 4-5 from three-point range, to go along with his 16 points.
“I am so proud of him… he just came out, didn’t let the environment affect him, and that’s exactly what we needed,” Reynolds said.
The freshman is humble and was excited to contribute to such a meaningful game, even with his lack of collegiate basketball experience.
“I’m blessed and lucky to be a part of this team,” Brown said. “I feel like we had a lot of confidence. I knew when I decided to come to St. Joe’s, I wanted to play in the Big 5 and get wins.
St. Joe's freshman and former Roman Catholic Standout Xzayvier Brown seals Big 5 win over Villanova. (Photo Geanine Jamison for PSD)
“Everything is new to me. Even academically everything is new to me. These guys just help me, so, this is like surreal because I can’t believe it. But they’ve been through it prior… they just keep it going and keep me confident.”
An interesting note about this Hawks team is how local their players are. Of the 16 rostered players, seven of them are from Philadelphia or the surrounding area. That goes from Greer, Brown, and Rasheer Fleming, whose 12 points down low helped all game but his 11 rebounds and overall defense low in the paint against Villanova star Eric Dixon was the biggest difference.
The win improves the Hawks to 6-2. They win face the Temple Owls on Dec. 2 for the Big 5 Classic title.