St. Joe's recovers from roller-coaster ride

PISCATAWAY, N.J. — PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- A week can be forever in college basketball.

Just a week ago, the fever was back on Hawk Hill as St. Joseph's, after a half-decade of futility, seemed poised to take the step from nowhere to somewhere.


Atlantic 10 leader Massachusetts was on its way to town. A frenzied crowd would be waiting. A St. Joe's win would put it in position to accomplish anything.

But it didn't happen then and it didn't happen Sunday at the Rutgers Athletic Center. The Hawks went from the high of early Thursday evening to the low of Sunday night so fast that one is left to wonder if it all wasn't a mirage in the first place.


The opportunity, however, was real. So were the results.

After losing to UMass Thursday, the Hawks would have to be content with playing for second place in the A-10. Now, after losing to Rutgers, 90-81, they will have to play for their lives.

"The difference between second place and seventh place is a point in a game," St. Joe's coach John Griffin said. "That's it. It could be a double-overtime, one-point loss that could put you in seventh place, or a one-point, double-overtime win that could put you in second. That's how close it is."

St. Joe's (14-7 overall, 5-4 in the A-10) proved the coach's point by sliding into a four-way tie for second with Temple, George Washington and Rhode Island.

Rutgers (11-12, 4-6) moved into a tie with West Virginia for sixth, 1 1/2 games out of second. Only first (UMass) and last (St. Bonaventure) have been virtually decided.

This particular game was decided by Rutgers's offense or St. Joe's defense, depending upon your point of view.

The Scarlet Knights, as always, came out pressing and throwing waves of players at the Hawks. St. Joe's fell behind immediately, but never far enough behind that it was out of the game.

Rutgers is a team that can look great but, somehow, find a way to keep its opponent in the game. Which is what happened.


Rutgers was too quick and had too many options, but made just enough bad decisions and took just enough off-balance shots that St. Joe's managed to hang around.

Whatever chance the Hawks had probably ended with 8:23 left in the game. Rutgers had just taken a 63-55 lead. As the ball was being thrown inbounds, St. Joe's Mark Bass was called for a technical foul by referee Murph Shapiro for pushing Donnell Lumpkin.

Lumpkin hit the two free throws. Andrew Kolbasovsky dropped in a jump hook. Instead of a chance to get within six, the Hawks found themselves down 12.

"He bumped me, I bumped him," Bass said. "I guess the ref just saw when I hit him. I just got the short end of the stick."

The "T" was a factor, but the problem was more elementary.

"When we had to stop somebody, we didn't," Griffin said. "And when you do that enough times at critical points of the game, you lose the game."


Jamal Phillips and Steve Worthy each had 18 points for Rutgers. The Scarlet Knights' bench outscored St. Joe's bench, 23-13.

Rap Curry and Bernard Jones each scored 18 points for the Hawks, but leading scorer Bernard Blunt, who shot just 6-for-19 against UMass, made his only field goal (a breakaway layup) with 7:22 left in the game.

Blunt missed his first seven shots and his last three.

"When that happens, we're generally not going to win games," Griffin said.

Blunt was searching for an explanation.

"I was pressing, I think," he said. "It wasn't psychological. It just didn't happen for me today.


"I played bad, but the other guys just have to step up. We usually get that, but we didn't get it today."

Giving up 90 points and playing at such a fast, sometimes out-of-control pace is not a way to win, either. At least, not for St. Joe's.

Rutgers dictates how the game is played by its frenzied style. You can look bad. Rutgers can look bad.

"They made their shots," Curry said simply.

And the Knights shoot 'em from everywhere.

"Definitely," Curry agreed.


"The coach may be a little down on us now," Blunt said. "But that's his job. I guess he wants the upperclassmen to motivate the team, not him. Me and Rap and [senior] Mike Sell did a poor job of that."

Griffin had cautioned everyone not to think ahead. It was almost as if he knew or suspected what was coming.

Tournaments, John?

"That's extremely premature for St. Joe's," the coach said. "We have five games that are critically important. And if we don't play better basketball, we're not going to any tournaments. We can cease and desist all discussion about a tournament . . . We're not ready for any tournaments."

Temple is next on the Hawks' agenda, Friday at the Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.

"I hope bad things don't happen in threes," Griffin said.