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No wins for St. Joseph’s, but cause for optimism | Mike Jensen

Competitive efforts against Auburn and much of the way against Kansas showed the Hawks look ready to upgrade.

St. Joseph's coach Billy Lange has a roster now that plays his style of aggressive basketball.
St. Joseph's coach Billy Lange has a roster now that plays his style of aggressive basketball.Read moreYONG KIM / Staff Photographer

You know when it was obvious that St. Joseph’s would have a new and improved look this season?

When the first Hawks starting lineup of the season was posted. Seriously. If freshman Jordan Hall, from Neumann Goretti; and Gonzaga transfer Greg Foster Jr.; and Xavier transfer Dahmir Bishop, from Imhotep Charter, all had proven worthy of starting, it meant that St. Joe’s could play closer to the style Billy Lange laid out when he got to Hawk Hill.

It also meant guys like Cameron Brown, Rahmir Moore, and Anthony Longpre, who had gotten their share of starts last season, could provide legit bench strength.

In a sense, all that showed itself to be true the last couple of days down in Fort Myers, Fla, as St. Joe’s took Auburn to overtime Thursday, then on Friday hung with Kansas for 30-ish minutes.

Yes, you’ll see Ryan Daly doing his thing, and Taylor Funk is back doing his thing. There also were wrinkles thrown in the mix.

Did anybody expect Columbia transfer Jack Forrest, from Lower Merion High, to be instant offense off the bench? Forrest probably did, but still, his play has been eye-opening, a threat against the big-time opponents, which means he should be a threat from now on.

“There’s honor in the way we competed,” Lange said afterward, already making it clear there would be no celebrating an 0-2 start with Villanova next on the schedule. (FS1 reported during the game that the Villanova-Hawks game is being moved from Monday to Wednesday, after Villanova picked up an extra game Saturday against Virginia Tech.)

The big picture for St. Joe’s is that the Hawks now have a slew of Atlantic 10-quality players. Did all the starters find their offensive games down in Fort Myers? Not even close. Lange had talked about how Foster had worked hard on his shot and now had to prove it will hold up in game conditions. That’s still to be proven.

Bishop was the starter who got his shot untracked. Nobody who saw him play for Imhotep or in the summer doubted his talent, his athleticism, or his work ethic. Making 8-of-15 three-pointers? That hasn’t always been his game.

“Me knocking those shots down is going to take me a long way,’' Bishop said Friday. “Me shooting with confidence, I feel like it’s a dangerous thing.”

Maybe it made some sense that St. Joe’s was picked 12th of 14 in the Atlantic 10 after going 6-26 last season. Except all these new faces, coupled with the return of Funk, suggested something different. How that that translate in league play, who knows?

The guess is that it will be quite a bit higher than 12th. The Hawks had hung with Kansas for most of the first half but didn’t finish a couple of shots near the rim late and allowed the Jayhawks to Rock Chalk into the intermission with a 44-36 lead.

Right after the break, Kansas didn’t jump on the Hawks. It was the other way around. Daly took it to the hoop for a quick score. Hall hit a three-pointer up top. Bishop hit a three-pointer. Daly drove and scored for the lead. Four scores in five possessions before Kansas got on the board.

That was the Hawks’ high point, it turned out. Daly picked up a third foul, sat, came back, picked up a fourth foul 16 seconds after he returned. He’s not most of the offense anymore, doesn’t have to be, but the offense still runs through him, so that all helped seal the fate of this game.

Kansas has a young group but had the length and the athletes, and 30 minutes worth of Jayhawks sloppiness, some of it induced by the Hawks’ aggressiveness, turned into 10 minutes of sharp ball movement, the St. Joe’s defense clearly worn way down, the final score stretching out to 94-72.

A most welcome sight of the opening weekend of college hoops was seeing the St. Joe’s Hawk out there past the corner of the court doing his thing, flapping his wings. (Why’s a mascot out there in these pandemic times? Well, the Hawk is officially part of the team itself.)

For Hawks fans, as familiar as that was, there was a more welcome sight. Watchable competitive hoops. A reason to tune back in. This new group has earned that much, easily.