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St. Joseph’s men’s basketball season opener reveals potential and problem areas

The St. Joseph's men's basketball team let a sizable lead collapse, but eventually overcame a comeback effort by University of Maryland Eastern Shores.

Taylor Funk fires in the game-winning shot in St. Joseph's men's basketball opener.
Taylor Funk fires in the game-winning shot in St. Joseph's men's basketball opener.Read moreSJU Athletics

It was Taylor Funk for the win as the red-shirt senior nailed a three-pointer to cap off his 22-point night in the final seconds of the Hawks’ win over University of Maryland Eastern Shore, 69-67, on Tuesday night.

The tale of two halves in St. Joe’s season opener started well, and ultimately ended well thanks to some late-game heroics from Taylor Funk.

Initially it was all St. Joe’s, as Funk hit three quick three-pointers to give St. Joe’s momentum early. The Hawk lead reached 19 points with about six minutes to go in the first half. The Hawks closed out the half leading by 14.

This run was fueled by cheers from the 1,617 fans in attendance. It had been 612 days since the Hawk faithful were last allowed in Hagan Arena. And for many Hawks, including sophomore guard Jordan Hall, it was their first time playing in front of fans at Hagan Arena. Due to coronavirus restrictions last school year, Hall played all his Hawks games in front of empty seats and cardboard cutouts.

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“I don’t think I’ve played in a game with that many fans since the Palestra in like 2020, 2019. So it was definitely fun,” said Hall.

Another key to the Hawks’ success in the first half was their offensive rebounding game. St. Joe’s outmuscled Maryland Eastern Shore on the offensive boards, 10-4 in the first half.

Size difference played a role in the advantage. Center Ejike Obinna led the way with three offensive rebounds by using his six-foot ten-inch, 245-pound frame to create separation.

Then the second half showed just how much the Hawks need to improve before conference play starts in late December. It took less than eight minutes for the visiting team to come back and take their first lead of the night. Turnovers plagued St. Joe’s during Maryland Eastern Shore’s 19-6 second-half run. However, head coach Billy Lange gave credit to Maryland Eastern Shore for causing those turnovers, rather than pointing at his players for being careless with the ball.

“First, I give [Maryland Eastern Shore] credit because they were junking the game up with trapping and switching defenses and gambling and all the things you do when you’re down,” said Lange.

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With just over eleven minutes to play in the second half, St. Joe’s had to find a way to stop Maryland Eastern Shore’s run. Lange’s message in the timeout helped set the tone for the rest of the game.

“It was just, keep playing, just win the next possession and continue to compete and focus on the things we talked about,” Lange said. “And I think they stayed in the moment, getting the jump ball at the end, getting the steel at the end, getting the deflection, the execution underneath. I couldn’t be more proud of our guys.”