This has been a bittersweet time for St. Joseph's head basketball coach Phil Martelli. Criticized nationally in the print, electronic, and social media after a scathing, first-person article by a former player, Martelli moved to the top of the Hawks coaching list with Wednesday's 81-72 win over Coppin State at Hagan Arena.
Actually, Martelli has to share the top spot. Now in his 17th season, Martelli is 309-212, tying the St. Joseph's career mark for wins with Bill Ferguson, who was 309-208 in 25 years from 1928 to '53.
St. Joe's is 9-3 on the season and 6-0 at Hagan Arena.
When asked, Martelli said tying the mark was the furthest thing from his mind.
"Just to have the honor of coaching here where Jack Ramsay coached, Ferguson coached, [Jim] Lynam, coached, [Jim] Boyle coached, [Jack] McKinney, [Harry] Booth, John Griffin, that's enough for me," Martelli said. "The numbers are the fact that you have good players and people around you who are very supportive."
Center C.J. Aiken led the Hawks with a career-high 20 points. Guards Langston Galloway and Carl Jones added 18 and 16 points, respectively.
The week began with the account by former Hawk Todd O'Brien on SI.com that criticized St. Joseph's and Martelli for denying his request for a release to play at the University of Alabama-Birmingham. O'Brien earned his undergraduate degree at St. Joseph's and, with one year of eligibility remaining, is attending UAB as a graduate student. Without the release, the NCAA has turned down his appeal to play at UAB.
Martelli and the school have not commented on the situation other than a statement, issued Monday, that said the school "considers the matter closed."
Back on the court, St. Joe's, as usual, had its share of highlight plays, the first on Galloway's one-handed follow jam in the first half. That was topped by a behind-the-head, alley-oop slam by Aiken off a pass from Halil Kanacevic, who had eight assists. That was the first of three consecutive dunks by Aiken, the third extending the lead to 28-23.
"I thought we were letting them hang around, and this gave us a little momentum," Aiken said.
While Martelli tied a record, Coppin State head coach Ron "Fang" Mitchell was going for his 400th win in his 26th season at the school.
Coppin State (4-7) didn't arrive until about 45 minutes before the game. Mitchell, a graduate of Woodrow Wilson High who got his coaching start at Gloucester County College, said the team bus left at 2 p.m. and hit some serious traffic.
It didn't hurt the Eagles' shooting. They shot 14 for 30 from beyond the arc.
"I was shocked our pressure bothered them a little bit, but they have all the tools," Mitchell said of St. Joe's.
The Hawks led by nine at halftime and maintained control throughout much of the second half, but Coppin State made a late run. The Eagles cut the deficit to 78-72 on a layup by Akeem Ellis with 36 seconds left, then forced a turnover but missed a trey by Ellis with 21 seconds remaining that would have made things interesting.