BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - Old habits apparently die hard.
After watching his Hawks roll to a 17-point second-half lead against a struggling Fairfield squad, St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli found himself in a familiar-but-nevertheless-uneasy position with two minutes left to play.
The Hawks were ahead by five, hardly good news for a team that had lost by six points or fewer in its four defeats this season.
Just a day earlier, in practice, Martelli had put his team through a series of end-game situations. Three out of four times, his starters lost.
Thankfully for Martelli and the Hawks, their backups proved more formidable than the Stags.
Lifted by a 10-foot jumper in the lane by Tasheed Carr, the Hawks scored five straight points to open some daylight on the Stags and went on to post a 78-70 win over a 2-8 Fairfield team last night before a crowd of 3,036 at the Arena at Harbor Yard.
It was St. Joe's ninth straight win over Fairfield.
"Until we win [a close game], and I'm not saying this was the game, it will be in the back of the players' minds," Martelli said. "We have to get over that hump."
Comfortably ahead by 54-37 after a jumper by Ahmad Nivins (15 points) with 15 minutes, 47 seconds remaining, the Hawks saw their lead cut to single digits as the Stags' Mike Evanovich (18 points) scored eight unanswered points. Eventually, the lead was sliced to 69-64 on a layup by Anthony Johnson (16 points, 14 rebounds) before Carr's jumper with 1:52 left and a steal by Garrett Williamson that led to Rob Ferguson's three-pointer with 1:09 to go made for a safe 74-64 lead.
"I felt we were struggling," said Carr, a junior guard who finished with 18 points, six assists and six rebounds. "I drove and came up with a shot I felt I could make."
While Pat Calathes added 18 points and nine rebounds, and Ferguson chipped in 14 points for the Hawks, Martelli said Williamson played a key role in snapping St. Joseph's (5-4) two-game losing streak.
"Garrett was the player of the game for us," Martelli said of the 6-foot-5 sophomore, who had seven points and three steals. "He made every one of those small plays - like a steal or offensive rebound - you need to win a game like this."
St. Joseph's used a 34-10 run to end the first half and take a 42-28 lead into the locker room.