This will not go down on the left side of the win-loss column. The final score did not say as much about how the game was played, as about the talent of the team with more of it. Unless you were in Saint Joseph's Hagan Arena, you really won't understand what went down last night. It was a game where no deficit seemed relevant as the very young Hawks played the game, not the scoreboard against No. 22 Minnesota.
Hawks coach Phil Martelli was so into his team's second-half effort that, after a foul was not called on Minnesota when Ronald Roberts appeared to get hit on a layup attempt, he set a modern arena coat-toss record, as his jacket flew from one side of the bench to the other, nearly beheading the Hawk.
It might have been a spot against another coach on another night where the young Hawks might have had a chance at an upset. But Minnesota's Tubby Smith has been around too long and seen too much.
St. Joe's young guards Carl Jones and Langston Galloway combined to score 50 points. Might have been enough against some teams. Not against Minnesota which won it, 83-73.
"Each guy that played made a play that leaves you optimistic," Martelli said. "And each guy left a play out there."
The last three gyms where Smith had coached have a total capacity of 50,000, more than 10 times Hagan Arena. There were the 23,500 at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky. and there is venerable Williams Arena (14,500) in Minneapolis. And there was also Memorial Gym at Kentucky, the on-campus practice gym, which once had a capacity of 12,000.
No matter, Smith said. They came to our campus last year so we go to their campus this year. Not many big-time coaches would think that way. Smith is not only big-time, he is also one coach who believes fair is fair.
"They're going to get better," Smith said of the Hawks. "They've lost some tough games on the road."
Midway through the first half, the Hawks had nine consecutive scoreless possessions. Minnesota got a working margin and nursed it all the way to the wire.
Until a three by Jones just before halftime, all Hawks not named Galloway were 5-for-29 from the field and 0-for-12 from the arc. Galloway had half the Hawks' 26 points at the break as St. Joe's (3-6) missed nearly as many shots (30) as Minnesota took (34).
The Hawks played very good offense in the second half, shooting 53.3 percent and scoring 47 points. The problem was that every time they got close, Devoe Joseph or Blake Hoffarber would hit a three. They were a combined 8-for-12 from the arc and scored 33 points. And Minnesota scored the same 47 in the second.
Minnesota's man-to-man wasn't very effective at the start and Smith abandoned it for zone. Smith tried man-to-man to begin the second half and the Hawks riddled it for a second time to close a 10-point halftime deficit to 38-37. The excitement last about 5 seconds. Minnesota's next five possessions were three, three, dunk, tip-in, three.
The Hawks did not take that as invitation to quit. A 51-37 lead became 57-52. St. Joe's had the ball. And threw it away.
"The game looks better when the ball goes in the basket, as it did for us in the second half," Martelli said.
The Hawks got to within six several times, but no closer.
Minnesota point guard Al Nolen recently hurt his foot and has not played in the last three games. So, the Gophers (8-1) was not at full strength. They were, however, considerably stronger and more experienced than the Hawks.
Galloway (21 points, seven steals, four rebounds, three assists) was really good for St. Joe's. Jones (29 points, six assists, five rebounds) had 23 in the second half and nearly willed his team home.
"They were good, but they weren't as good as I expected on film," Jones said. "Thought we could have beat them. There's a lot of stuff we're doing wrong."
The coach would like to get his guards some scoring help.
"Anything you can suggest, 3:45 [today for practice]," Martelli said to a questioner. "I am right with you."
The final score was a fair accounting of the game, but the game within the game told an interesting story. Which makes what happens next equally interesting. *