Billy Lange was home Wednesday morning when he answered his phone.
“Big recruiting day,’’ the St. Joseph’s Hawks coach said, explaining that he was headed south on I-95 for an afternoon game, then back to the Palestra for Wednesday night’s Catholic League semifinal extravaganza.
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Lange’s Hawks had a pretty big Tuesday night, finally getting an Atlantic 10 win, pulling off a 21-point comeback, 19 of it in the second half, to take out Davidson, 73-72, at the buzzer.
Better night’s sleep?
“I’ve actually been sleeping great — when I say ‘great,’ I mean no more or less than normal,’’ Lange said, explaining that this was a big "W" for the Hawk faithful and his players and the administration and his staff and, sure, for him, but he added, “In a weird, twisted, perverse way, I’ve actually been enjoying this season.”
Not the losing. His eyes were just wide open coming into this season, Lange said, knowing what was ahead, after so much of the roster had been dismantled, players transferring, recruits heading elsewhere, newcomers in. Yes, Lange was a Sixers assistant when that franchise endured the lowest lows before bouncing up.
“That’s the obvious one. That’s what everybody asks about,’’ Lange said when asked about the similarities and differences of the experiences. “It’s deeper than that. One year with Speedy [Morris at La Salle], last year of his contract with a new AD. Three NIT years at ‘Nova, then back to ‘Nova, we knew internally there was a recasting of culture. The perspective is that everyone goes through what we are going through right now. It might not look as dramatic as the record.”
A lesson from Brett Brown, Lange said, was how, in the toughest times, “the guy never spoke about himself. He’s the son of two school teachers. I’m the son of two school teachers. How do we come in every day and teach our guys?”
Lange breaks down their 26 games, “52 halves,’’ noting that “probably only seven or eight have just been bad. … You saw two at Temple.” One point: Even top-25 teams probably have seven or eight halves at this point they’d put down as bad. The other: Good isn’t usually quite good enough, how the efforts against Florida and Villanova and some others would have been enough to grab some A-10 wins, but the A-10 wasn’t offering an easy early path.
“They’re new,’’ Lange said of the group he’s been putting out. “It’s like a pickup basketball team, and we’re playing in a highly competitive Division I basketball league. I give them credit.”
Nope, no quitting. That’s been obvious from the outside.
“Look, the school’s motto is ‘The Hawk will never die,’ ‘’ Lange said. “Whether they come in with that … they pick it up.”
Obviously, not dying is not the same as winning. The slogan exists for the tough times. St. Joe’s is still living them, even if they’ve got a guy in Ryan Daly who has done everything.
“Everything,’’ Lange said.
If St. Joe’s were 21-5 instead of 5-21, Daly would be getting all-American consideration — he’s been that kind of good. He’ll have to settle for all-Big 5 first-teamer and some conference honors. An ankle sprain kept Daly on the bench the last two games. Maybe it was extra good for the rest of the guys’ confidence that they pulled one out without Daly. They hung for a half Saturday at Rhode Island without their star but just didn’t have the firepower to do it for 40 minutes. Lange also praised Daly for his leadership while sitting out.
“Ryan Daly on the bench was an absolute stud,’’ Lange said. “I can get really emotional about his growth as a leader. He kept telling guys [Tuesday], ‘We’re in this.’ "
Daly probably didn’t say that early, when the Hawks were statistically dead in the water, down 34-13. Davidson isn’t in the habit of giving up such leads, although Daly’s miracle shot had put an earlier matchup at Davidson into OT before the home team pulled it out.
This night, the Hawk motto applied. St. Joe’s still had been down 19 in the second half. The winning play, a three-pointer by Cameron Brown, made ESPN’s SportsCenter Top 10 plays at No. 3.
“Here’s the crazy thing — the play was for Cam Brown to get a shot,’’ Lange said, just not in the way it played out, explaining that Daly is meant to be the inbounder for the play as it is practiced, but with Daly out, Brown is the Hawks’ second-best inbound passer, so he took that role.
Lorenzo Edwards got the inbounds pass with 6.4 seconds left and took a shot, but it was blocked. Edwards retrieved it and got it out to Brown. Lange noted the shot fake was shades of JJ Redick, a small dribble by Brown, a shot in rhythm. A 24-point night for Brown.
“It’s God’s grace all over,’’ Lange said. “It’s crazy.”
The staff has worked on the players to stay with the big picture, noting specific examples of the tougher adversity others are going through in life.
“For competitive basketball players, you can’t diminish how hard this is,’’ Lange said of this season. “What can we learn? Do we need to learn more discipline? Do we need to learn to be more humble? Do we have it in us [to persevere]? What else is there?”
Lange made one more point on the phone that he’s made to his Hawks players.