Matthew Ryan (@MatthewRyan247)
(Ed. Note: This piece is one of a series of six that the CoBL staff is putting together on how the 2020-21 season went for each of the City 6 and how the future’s shaping up. Links to the rest of the series will go here as they’re published: Drexel | La Salle | Penn | Saint Joseph’s | Temple | Villanova)
With the Phil Martelli era quickly getting further away in the rearview mirror, second-year head coach Billy Lange is deep in the middle of trying to rebuild the proud program. Lange’s Hawks sported just a 6-26 record his first year as the head coach, and were picked to finish third to last in the Atlantic 10 preseason coaches poll this year.
Ryan Daly (above, last season) missed half of the season after breaking his thumb, but spurred a four-game winning streak with his return. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
St. Joe’s returned All-Conference Third Team guard Ryan Daly who led the A-10 in scoring in 2019-20, averaging 20.6 points per game. The new faces on Hawk Hill were Dhamir Bishop (Xavier), Jack Forrest (Columbia), and Greg Foster Jr. (Gonzaga), who all suited up for their first games season after transferring, and freshman Jordan Hall, Jadrian Tracey, and Anton Jansson.
The season was mostly a struggle, with the loss of the team's best player for half the year being a major setback, but, when healthy, Lange’s squad showed some signs of life in another rebuilding season.
Season in Brief
The Hawks started the year off with five brutal out-of-conference games, none at home, all resulting in losses. The first came against SEC squad Auburn in overtime, 96-91, followed by a blowout 94-72 loss to AP No. 6 Kansas. After St. Joe’s went on a two week pause due to a positive COVID-19 test, Drexel narrowly defeated the Hawks, 81-77, before No. 7 Villanova got a 20 point victory and No. 8 Tennessee dismantled Lange’s squad, 102-66.
The game against Tennessee saw Daly break his left thumb and tear some ligaments in it, forcing him to miss 10 games. This was a huge blow to a St. Joe’s team that was hanging tough in their first four games of the year. With the heart and soul of the squad out, expectations had to be tempered.
After losing their next three games, all A-10 matchups, the Hawks finally got their first win of the year, defeating Albany 67-64. The Hawks lost their next six games, with a 21-day break in between contests at one point due to COVID-19 protocols, and sported an 0-9 record in conference play when Daly returned to the floor.
When Daly returned to the lineup, things started to change. In his first game back, the 6-5 guard went off for 30 points on 13-19 shooting, leading his squad to their first A-10 victory, defeating La Salle, 91-82, in overtime. The Hawks rounded out their regular season, beating Dayton, 97-84 thanks to a career-high 36 points by redshirt junior Taylor Funk, and topping Richmond 76-73, in a game that saw all five starters score in double figures.
How it Ended
Entering the A-10 Tournament as the 13th seed with a 3-9 conference record, the Hawks defeated La Salle in the first round, 72-66, with Daly scoring 23 points. This marked the teams’ fourth consecutive win, after starting out the year just 1-14.
In the second round of the tournament, UMass dominated St. Joe’s, 100-66, ending their season and snapping their longest winning streak since 2017-18. The Hawks ended the year with a 5-15 overall record, missing the NCAA Tournament for the fifth consecutive season.
Most Valuable Player: Despite the fact that Daly missed half the season, the way the team played with him on the court solidified his winning of this award. The Hawks were just 1-9 in games Daly missed, but were 4-6 when their 6-5 scorer took the court. Daly averaged a team high 18.5 points per game, along with 6.0 rebounds a night and 2.5 assists. The team's leader showed heart, returning from his thumb injury to give it one last run with his teammates and coaches.
Most Improved: After an impressive freshman season where Funk averaged 11.8 points per game, the 6-8 forward took a step back his sophomore year and was forced to redshirt his junior season after playing seven games because he tore a ligament in his right thumb. The Manheim Central (Pa.) graduate improved in every statistical category with the expectation of turnovers from his sophomore season. With an increased role due to Daly’s injury, Funk was the A-10’s fifth leading scorer and the team's second-leading scorer, averaging 17.4 points per game with a slash line of 48.2/35.4/83.8, and contributed daily averages of 5.7 boards, 1.5 assists, and nearly one block and one steal.
Taylor Funk (above, last season) had a strong return to the court after missing all but seven games last season. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Don’t Forget About: Averaging 10.4 points, 3.3 rebounds, and almost an assist and steal, Forrest had a respectable first season at St. Joe’s. The 6-5 guard cracked the starting lineup in January before a lower leg injury kept him out for almost the remainder of the season, making his return in the finale. Forrest went a bit under the radar with the emergence of Funk and Hall, but the Lower Merion grad can really shoot it and should have a featured role next year.
Watch Out For: In his first collegiate season, Tracey didn’t get a ton of playing time, averaging just 12.5 minutes, but when on the floor, he played well. The 6-5, 190-pound wing averaged 4.1 points, on 41.8/31.0/69.6 shooting splits, and 2.6 rebounds. Tracey proved he can produce when given the opportunity, and with much more playing time on the table for next year, the forward may be in for a big year.
Maybe Next Year: Philadelphia native Rahmir Moore struggled mightily in his sophomore season after having a solid freshman year where he averaged 7.3 points per game on 38.0/33.3/72.6 shooting splits. The 6-3 sophomore averaged 4.1 points, shooting just 29.8% from the field and 14.3% from deep on 1.4 attempts per game. Moore’s second season on Hawk Hill was underwhelming, but with Daly and Hall gone, some minutes and shot attempts will be up for grabs next season.
4: In addition to being the Hawks’ winning streak at the end of the year, it is also the same number of players that averaged double figure points; Daly and Funk led the way, followed by Hall (10.6 ppg) and Forrest (10.4 ppg). Against La Salle, in the first game back after the Hawks’ second COVID pause, Hall registered the fourth triple-double in program history, scoring 22 points, grabbing 12 boards, and dishing out 10 assists.
6: Six of the Hawks’ 15 losses came by 20 or more points, three more than last season where Lange’s squad lost 26 games. Six is also the number of players that eclipsed 100 points on the year.
Myles Douglas, who only played ten games before his season came to an end with a leg injury, and Hall, Lange’s budding star, both entered the transfer portal following last season.
Hall is the big blow to the program, departing Hawk Hill for personal reasons, and heading Texas A&M after a stellar freshman season. The 6-8 point guard averaged 10.6 points, 5.9 rebounds, and 5.7 assists — the second most in the A-10 and the most among all freshmen across the nation. The loss of the Neumann Goretti (Pa.) graduate is a huge blow to the rebuilding Hawks.
Two big men, 7-0 junior Charles Coleman and 6-10 redshirt senior Ejike Obinna, transferred to St. Joe’s. With not many “bigs” on the roster next season, both players should have the opportunity to earn quality minutes for Lange.
The Hawks have two incoming freshmen next season; 6-8 forward and Poland native Kacper Kłaczek, who played high school ball at Long Island Lutheran (N.Y.) and Erik Reynolds, a 6-3 guard out of the Bullis School (Md.) ranked No. 190 in his class by 247 Sports.
The departures of both Hall and Daly (2.5 apg), one and two in assists per game on the team respectively, leaves a hole as the teams facilitator. Reynolds could play a part in that role along with some of the other guards on the roster, but regardless of who that person or persons are, they have big shoes to fill.
The Hawks desperately need help on the defensive end of the ball, especially on the inside. Coleman and Obinna will help improve the team's terrible 1.8 blocks per game which ranked 336th in the nation and their opponents 54.1 two-point field goal percentage that ranked 314th worst in the country, but they won’t solve all of the issues. Lange’s squad had the sixth worst opponents points per contest at 82.6, and needs help at all levels to improve on the defensive side of the ball.