Saint Joseph's and Penn contest opening tip of their Big 5 battle, one Hawks won 78-71 at The Palestra. (Photo by Jaden Daly/Daly Dose Of Hoops)
PHILADELPHIA -- With two of last year's starters, one of whom is leading scorer Shavar Newkirk, out for the remainder of the season due to injury, it would be forgivable to attribute the sluggish start for Saint Joseph's this year to youth and having to readjust on the fly while simultaneously defending an Atlantic 10 Conference championship.
Head coach Phil Martelli, however, is not one to make excuses, employing a nine-man rotation and stressing a three-word credo of "be better tomorrow" as his unit soldiers on through life without Newkirk and Pierfrancesco Oliva.
For 40 minutes at The Palestra Saturday night, his Hawks were the better team on the floor, taking advantage of a quartet of double-figure scoring efforts led by point guard Lamarr Kimble's 23 points in a 78-71 victory over crosstown rival Penn, giving St. Joe's its first win of Big 5 play this season after dropping their first two contests in the intra-city round robin.
In addition to Kimble, Charlie Brown came within a rebound of a double-double, posting 19 points and nine boards. James Demery contributed to the winning cause with 15 points and six rebounds, while Chris Clover added 10 markers of his own as Martelli vehemently insisted his team was not fractured even though only seven players played more than ten minutes.
"We are not injured," the longtime Hawks coach boldly reassured as St. Joe's (9-9) ended a three-game losing streak in their brief hiatus from A-10 play by regaining control toward the midpoint of the second half with a 13-4 run, then matching Penn just enough to keep the Quakers from getting over the hump. "This team is not injured. The team that was dressed in that locker room and came out on the court, that's our team. Everybody starts their conversation with 'due to the injuries,' no. That has nothing to do with it. There's injuries all over the country."
"The goal is to be better," Martelli candidly elaborated. "We've kind of plateaued here. We've only lived for 22 years here one way: Be better tomorrow. Tomorrow, we start for a tough game at St. Bonaventure, and we start that in eighth place. That's average for the league."
Both teams used the opening minutes as a feeling-out period of sorts, with Penn (6-9) holding a 10-6 lead at the first media timeout before surrendering a 25-6 St. Joe's spurt that put them in a 15-point hole at the 5:28 mark of the opening stanza, trailing 31-16. But the Quakers were able to fight back with a 20-4 stretch that bridged the end of the first half and first two minutes after the intermission, something that made Steve Donahue proud as the second-year mentor resumes his quest to mold the longtime Ivy League power back into a winning product.
"I'm really proud of these guys," a soft-spoken Donahue humbly stated. "For the year-and-a-half I've been here, I couldn't be more proud of what these guys do. Their resiliency is an example of that. We haven't played really good basketball, that's for sure, but we compete really hard. In terms of a group that's together and competing and doing what I ask of them, I couldn't be more proud."
Matt Howard led Penn in the losing effort with 19 points and 12 rebounds, while freshman Ryan Betley, in his Big 5 debut, provided a spark with 15 points off the bench. However, it was enough to keep the Quakers from remaining winless in the Philadelphia standings.
A Brown three-pointer on the ensuing possession following Penn regaining a 36-35 lead put St. Joe's on top for good, and the combination of making more winning plays than their opponent; coupled with a 43-15 disparity in free throw attempts, was an effective recipe to put the Hawks over the top as they prepare for an arduous three-game stretch in their return to A-10 competition, beginning with a trek to St. Bonaventure on Tuesday before coming back home to welcome La Salle and Davidson into Hagan Arena.
"The words I used today were 'let's rid the taste,' said Martelli of reversing his team's fortunes. "To walk around for two weeks without a win, it's been miserable and I haven't made it easier on them. But tonight was, 'let's rid the taste.' Now, we're looking at a 12-game season."