St. Joseph’s first five opponents of the season have included three teams ranked in the Associated Press top 10. The first two were against No. 3 Kansas and No. 5 Villanova. Then came a road game Monday against eighth-ranked Tennessee.
The Vols entered Monday as one of the NCAA’s best defenses, and it was easy to see why. The Hawks’ offense struggled to get good looks early. Each shot attempt was either contested or taken going away from the basket.
A slow offensive start resulted in an early 16-0 Tennessee run, and the Hawks (0-5) never got within single digits. St. Joe’s fell, 102-66, to Tennessee (5-0) at Thompson-Boling Arena.
“[The Vols] have very few weaknesses,” head coach Billy Lange said. “Particularly on a night where they shoot the ball from three that well. I thought we did some really good things. I’m very proud of our guys.”
The first half was highlighted by a combined 31 free-throw attempts and 26 fouls. Five of the Hawks’ nine players who played had two or more fouls.
Those issues continued into the second half. Jadrien Tracey, Taylor Funk, Anton Jansson and Anthony Longpre each had four fouls with more than 13 minutes remaining in the second half. Rahmir Moore also had three. Longre, Tracey and Funk fouled out.
“I feel like I heard more whistles than standing in Times Square in New York City,” Lange said. “You got to credit Tennessee. That has nothing to do with the officials. This was as physical and athletic a group that we’ve contended against.”
The Hawks shot 39.7%. and had 18 turnovers. Ryan Daly finished with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists. Dahmir Bishop scored 12 points. Taylor Funk and Rahmir Moore added 10 each. Tennessee shot 50% from the field and had six players in double figures. The Hawks have allowed at least 80 points in all five games.
Greg Foster Jr., Myles Douglas and Cameron Brown all missed Monday’s contest. Douglas is already engaged in physical activities, but Lange said he’s not ready to play yet. St. Joe’s is hoping Foster Jr. and Brown can participate in team activities after the holiday break, then their statuses will be re-evaluated. The next game is Dec. 30 against VCU.
St. Joe’s will enter its Atlantic 10 slate having played arguably the toughest non-conference schedule. That challenge can either make the Hawks better prepared or hurt their confidence. They’re betting on the first option
“I think the morale is up because [the players are] competitive,” Lange said. “I think they feel good. We’re looking forward to seeing where we can make our biggest gains.”