BETHLEHEM, Pa. - Early-season records are often more misleading than revealing. How you did is often not terribly predictive. It is about the teams you played as much as the final scores.

Take last night's Saint Joseph's-Lehigh game at Stabler Arena, for instance. Lehigh was 5-1; St. Joe's, 2-3.

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It took about five trips up and down the court to reveal the obvious. The Hawks were faster, stronger, better and more tested.

Darrin Govens knocked out a wide-open trey on St. Joe's initial possession and the Hawks, making their first visit to Lehigh in more than a quarter-century, never trailed and won comfortably, 77-64.

While Lehigh was beating Delaware State, Saint Peter's, St. Francis (Pa.), Dartmouth and Rutgers, the Hawks were playing Texas, Alabama and Indiana.

The only common opponent was Rider. The Hawks beat the Broncs in their opener, 69-57. Lehigh's only loss was to Rider, 69-68. Sometimes scores, used in the right way, can be revealing.

St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli was just trying to survive the evening. He came down with a bad case of the flu Saturday night, a day after his team flew back from the Maui Invitational. Riding up yesterday on the Northeast Extension, Martelli almost told the bus driver to stop, wondering whether he could make it.

"That's as sick as I've been for a game," Martelli said. "I only went to the office yesterday for practice."

He did see enough to decide his team did better than at Maui, even if the opposition was not of the same caliber.

The coach was not looking forward to the ride home, clearly nowhere near being over his illness. In fact, he wasn't sure he was going to come out for the second half. But he did.

St. Joe's (3-3) certainly was not dazzling against the Mountain Hawks (5-2). The Hawks seemed to cruise around the court right at the speed limit, never taking too many risks, always comfortable against a game opponent that was playing without injured forward Phil Anderson, its best three-point shooter, top shot blocker and third leading scorer and rebounder.

Lehigh does have a strong Philly connection in junior forward Zahir Carrington (All-Pub at Julia Masterman) and sophomore guard Rob Keefer (Abington Friends). Carrington, surrounded by larger bodies, had 13 points. Keefer finished with 10.

St. Joe's led, 35-24, at the half despite missing 23 of its 36 field goal attempts. Tasheed Carr was 0-for-8 in the half on his way to 0-for-11 before hitting a trey with 8 minutes left.

Lehigh, playing with much more urgency than the Hawks and getting to the rim far more than Martelli likely preferred, closed to within 59-55 with 5 minutes left. They got no closer as the game eventually degenerated into the fruitless and irritating late-game parade to the foul line.

Somebody wanted to know what Martelli said when Lehigh closed the gap.

"He didn't say anything, he yelled a lot of stuff," Ahmad Nivins said.

Nivins (20 points, career-high 17 rebounds) sort of did what he wanted when he wanted. Frontcourt mate Idris Hilliard had a career-high 15 points and they were needed. They combined for 10 offensive rebounds. Govens had 16 points.

"I can't stay disappointed [about losing two of three in Maui]," Nivins said. "We definitely would have wanted to win some more. Playing at that level, we got a better understanding of who we are as a team."

For the Hawks to get somewhere, Hilliard needs more games like last night's.

"I had to block out everything that happened in Maui," Hilliard said.

In addition to put-backs, Hilliard hit several midrange jumpers, a shot he worked on all summer.

Martelli always knew this team would struggle to score. Hilliard could be part of the solution.

"We are limited offensively," Martelli said. "We have a number. We think if we can get to 68 or 69 . . . When you do the actual sketching of those numbers, how are you going to get there."

The coach figures he needs four double-figure scorers, and Hilliard has to be one of them.

As to where the Hawks are after six games, Govens said: "It's way too early, but we need to find out soon. We'll get it together."

After visits to Massachusetts, Maui, Bethlehem and the Wachovia Center for their "home" opener, St. Joe's finally plays at the Palestra, this season's "home" court, Saturday against Creighton.

That game will tell some more about this St. Joe's team. It is still early, but it can get late quick. *