MINNEAPOLIS - Shortly after the St. Joseph's basketball team stepped off the plane here late Friday afternoon, a stranger approached coach Phil Martelli and asked whether the Hawks were playing the University of Minnesota. Yes, Martelli said.
The stranger then told Martelli to expect a difficult game, because coach Tubby Smith had the Gophers playing tough defense.
That wasn't what Martelli needed to hear. And yesterday, after the Gophers sent the Hawks to their sixth consecutive loss, 97-74 - the program's longest losing streak since a nine-gamer in 1998-99 - Martelli criticized his team's poor defense and vowed to reexamine everything, from his coaching to the personnel combinations on the floor.
"We put up a fight for the first 15 minutes, and we pretty much just played basketball after that," Martelli said. "We've got to fight through each possession."
The first meeting between the Gophers and the Hawks since Dec. 29, 1965 - Jack Ramsay coached St. Joe's then - turned one-sided late in the first half, because the Hawks (3-6) could not contain Blake Hoffarber, the Gophers' lefthanded-shooting guard, outside or 6-foot-11 center Ralph Sampson III inside.
Hoffarber's 20 points included five three-pointers, four in the first half, to help the Gophers (7-3) grab a 48-33 halftime lead. Sampson, a sophomore and the son of former Virginia great Ralph Sampson, had a season-high 16 points on 7-for-9 shooting plus 10 rebounds for his first collegiate double-double. Sampson keyed Minnesota's 43-33 rebounding advantage; the Hawks have been outrebounded in every game this season but one.
"He's a big body," said Hawks guard Darrin Govens, who matched Garrett Williamson for the team high with 15 points. "He was just pretty active. Once they got it in deep, it was kind of hard for us to do things."
The thing is, Sampson is hardly an offensive force. He had been averaging 7.2 points, with only one double-figure game. That he broke out yesterday particularly irked Martelli.
"We've had this happen a number of times this year, where guys are putting up numbers - and I don't mean this disrespectfully - that don't make sense," he said. "You look at his numbers from last year and his numbers coming into this game, and you say, 'This is what he's going to do,' and they don't do it. Our kids just got overpowered."