Phil Martelli expected the rust to show. Exam week brings that every season.
Playing its first game in 11 days, St. Joseph's struggled through the first 10 minutes against Cornell last night, falling behind by 13 points.
"Clearly, the way we started the game, they lose that little bit of edge," the Hawks' coach said.
But thanks largely to double-doubles by Ahmad Nivins and Idris Hilliard, the Hawks overcame that deficit and eked out a 71-67 victory last night at the Palestra. The win evened the Hawks' record at 5-5 as they began a stretch of three straight home games.
Nivins finished with 26 points and 16 rebounds, notching his sixth double-double this season. Hilliard recorded his first career double-double, notching a career-best 10 boards to go with 14 points. Darrin Govens added 15 points, hitting a few clutch baskets in the second half.
That two big men finished with double-doubles was a bit of a change for St. Joe's, which has long relied on outside shooting.
"To be honest with you, most of my big guys set screens and get the hell out of the way," Martelli said. "This is a different animal, where we have to throw them the ball and let them hit the shot. The guys that play that front-court position are part of our ignition."
Cornell (5-6) opened the game by consistently driving to the basket, either finishing the play with a layup or kicking the ball out to a teammate.
The Big Red hit nine of their first 12 shots to take a 22-10 lead. The Hawks missed eight of their first 12 shots.
"We just came out flat," Hilliard said. "There's no excuse for it. We just came out flat and they didn't. We had to regroup."
They did, scoring on their next four possessions, which included three three-pointers on the way to an 11-2 run. The final trey, by Tasheed Carr, cut the Hawks' deficit to 24-21.
With 42 seconds left, the Hawks took their first lead since their first possession, a Nivins tip-in giving them a 32-31 edge. But the lead was short-lived, as Ryan Wittman, who led Cornell with 16 points, drilled a jumper a second before halftime.
"We didn't really panic," the Hawks' Garrett Williamson said. "That's what kept us in the game. We stayed together and kept our composure. We knew it was just a matter of time before we got things going."
A series of Cornell turnovers allowed St. Joe's to retake the lead, 46-44, when Nivins again tipped in a basket with 13 minutes, 50 seconds left. Nivins scored 16 of his 26 points in the second half.
Govens converted a three-point play to give the Hawks a 58-51 lead with 7:49 left, but St. Joe's couldn't put Cornell away. The Big Red took a 60-58 lead on a 9-0 run, but Govens hit a clutch three-pointer to start an 8-0 run that handed St. Joe's a 68-60 lead.
Cornell wouldn't go easy, climbing back within 70-67 with 10 seconds left, but the Big Red couldn't make another shot.