DREXEL NEEDED the game to enhance its nonconference/road résumé. Saint Joseph's needed the game for a far more basic reason: self-respect.
The Dragons had played consistently good basketball against a very strong schedule - home, road, neutral, winning in three overtimes twice in succession.
The Hawks had not played in 11 days after losing at Temple when they thought they would win and didn't and then getting crushed at home by Villanova when they thought they would be in the game and weren't.
The Dragons came to Hagan Arena feeling good about themselves and seemed to have some control of the game, leading by nine points with barely 3 minutes left in the first half. The Hawks had not made a free throw or a three, going a combined 0-for-13. They had more turnovers (10) than baskets (seven). SJU's two top scorers, Langston Galloway and Ronald Roberts, who had 2,607 career points between them, were 1-for-9.
The fans in the barely half-filled arena were less than enthusiastic about what they were seeing. Then, with no warning, it turned and turned hard.
When it stopped turning, it was way over, the Hawks eventually winning, 75-55. SJU (5-4) blew up in the second half, getting 52 points against a team that made it difficult for No. 1 Arizona to score. Senior Halil Kanacevic, who has always killed the Dragons, buried them with the game of his life - career-best 27 points (12 of 13 shooting and he put his miss right back in the basket) to go along with 14 rebounds.
Drexel (7-3) had no answer for Kanacevic. His post moves, ball fakes, footwork, passing and overall command of the game changed the game. He passed up several open threes, but made the only one he took.
"I wanted to win," Kanacevic said simply. "We all wanted to win. I just wanted to be aggressive . . . Once [a few] start going in, the basket looks 10 times bigger."
Kanacevic had sat out nearly 7 minutes of the first half with two fouls. Coach Phil Martelli put him back in because, without him, it would have been almost a shutout.
Joined in an offensive exacta by freshman forward DeAndre Bembry, Kanacevic finished a perfect first half (6-for-6) and got the Hawks to halftime alive, down 27-23.
Over the final 4 minutes of the first half and the first 16 of the second - 20 minutes of game time - it was SJU 56, Drexel 26. SJU shot 21 of 33 and had exactly one turnover. The Hawks played a little bit like Villanova did against them.
"It didn't matter if it was two city games [lost]," said Kanacevic who graduated on Tuesday. "That matters to the fans more than me. It could have been any team we played and our last loss to Villanova, if you get beat like that, it's horrible, I don't care who it is . . . I'm content right now. I don't think we should be jumping for joy, but hopefully it's a good start to something."
Bembry was a difference-maker for the Hawks with 18. The Dragons' Tavon Allen (20 points) did a terrific defensive job on Galloway in the first half. Galloway got all 11 of his points in the second.
Drexel's top scorers, Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch, who had combined for 2,637 points in their careers, had rare off games - shooting a combined 6-for-24 for 15 points.
"We're just disappointed in how we played," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "We got beat to every loose ball, we played with no aggression."
The Dragons did not make a three in 11 tries. They shot just 33.3 percent in the second half. They were as bad from the foul line as the Hawks. They are better than that, and have played better than that in every other game.
"We haven't played like that all year against anybody," Flint said. "We had one of those games. We were really bad and those guys, you've got to give them credit, they got comfortable. Halil beat us to every rebound. He got those guys charged up. He played with way more fire than our guys did."
Martelli focuses much more on numbers than emotion. But he certainly understood what the game meant.
"First of all, I think it's a wonderful game, playing Drexel, it's a Philadelphia game," Martelli said. "Kind of the setting for us after two Philadelphia losses and then the long layoff for exams, it was good to be zeroed in on a team that's having such a quality year."
There were, Martelli said, "a lot of season's greetings in the locker room" at halftime, "with one particular player who will remain nameless."
That player would be Galloway.
"I don't normally do that," Martelli said.
Message heard by Galloway and his teammates.
"I played a lousy first half, wasn't playing defense, wasn't helping the team at all," Galloway said.
Then, he was. They all were. And the Hawks blew away a team whose losses were by a combined nine points to Arizona and UCLA.