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St. Joe's run ends at hands of Dayton in A-10 quarters

03/09/2023, 9:45pm EST
By Jared Leveson

Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson) &
Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Lynn Greer III’s face said it all.

The sophomore from Roman Catholic choked up when he tried to speak. 

Erik Reynolds II sat to his right and patted Greer III on the back. The emotions in the press conference were like the locker room — raw.

“Given the circumstances, a lot of emotions are flying,” Reynolds said about the locker room’s post-loss atmosphere. Everybody coming together. Everybody saying how much they love each other. 

“It just shows (how) strong our brotherhood is here.”

St. Joe's and head coach Billy Lange, above, saw their seasons end Thursday night. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL File)

That’s the Saint Joseph’s team head coach Billy Lange is creating, a program that is united and resilient.

“We wanted to be the most united team we could be by the end of our season and that’s the goal of our program,” Lange said. “I feel like our guys accomplished that and then some, teaching us a lot about spirit, respecting each other, elevating each other, serving each other, sharpening each other.” 

The Hawks played united and gave No. 2 Dayton everything it could handle but came up just short, ending its season with a 60-54 loss in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals at the Barclays Center. 

Trailing by as many as 13 in the second half, St. Joe’s found itself down just three points with 40 seconds remaining after a steal-and-layup from star sophomore Reynolds II, then nearly came up with a turnover on the other end.

Moments later, a Dayton inbounds pass got deflected out of bounds off a scrum of Flyers and Hawks on the baseline. The officials went to the monitor and ruled the ball out on St. Joe’s with 15 seconds left.

The following inbounds pass after the review floated right out of Reynolds II’s reach into Dayton’s Mustapha Amzil’s hands, who got fouled and hit both ends of the one-and-one. The Hawks’ fate was sealed.

“As hard as this one is to take on a multitude of levels,” Lange said, “because of things that happened within the game, some in our control and some out — I don’t want it to take away from the growth of both this team collectively and individually and our program as a whole.”

“We had great looks,” he continued. “So you gotta credit Dayton too. They played aggressively and they played hard. That’s a part of it. I think it’s a little bit of fatigue, but I don’t want to make that excuse because we had a chance to win at the end of the game. I think it’s a little bit Dayton, a little bit of fatigue, a little bit missed a shot, a little bit that decimates your spirit. It’s a little bit of all of that. These guys fought ‘til the very end against an amazing basketball team in Dayton.”

The close loss was certainly an improvement for the 10th-seeded Hawks on their first game against Dayton this season, a 20-point loss in January, but it still marks the end of the seventh St. Joe’s season in a row without any postseason action beyond the conference tournament. 

The Hawks averaged nearly 80 points in their first two Atlantic 10 tournament games but struggled against an impressive Flyers’ defense, which came into the tournament best in the league at opponents’ field goal percentage (39.2%) and best in scoring defense (60.8 ppg).

“Making open shots is a big part of the game,” Lange said. “We missed a few. That gets in your head. I didn't think the spirit was tired tonight. The body was a little tired and we didn’t get body movement. We did the last 10 minutes of the game and it was effective. Basketball is funny. Shot (goes) in and we’re not having this conversation.” 

The Flyers weren’t hot, either, as the Hawks’ 3-2 zone gave Dayton fits all night. The two teams combined to shoot 17-of-60 (28%) from 3-point range. Nobody could seem to get a rhythm for more than a couple possessions. That let the Hawks stick around on a night in which they faced a massive deficit inside, and when their own shots weren’t falling at a high clip.

“We locked in and do what we do,” Reynolds II said about their zone. “We worked on 3-2 a lot. Specifically to Dayton, we made sure we identified where their shooters were on the court, and I think we (did) that pretty well.”

Reynolds II, who had 34 points in St. Joe’s second-round win over George Washington on Wednesday, led the Hawks with 19 points, making one of his first seven shots but heating up as the second half went on, scoring 16 in the second frame. 

His jumper in the lane had St. Joe’s within 53-47 with four minutes remaining, and a Rasheer Fleming bucket had it within four with two minutes remaining.

Dayton responded with a dunk from DaRon Holmes II, snapping a seven-minute streak for the Flyers without a bucket, and a jumper by Koby Brea made it an eight-point lead with 1:01 to play after Reynolds missed a triple.

As the Hawks showed, they had one more push left in them, even if it wasn’t quite enough.

“The Hawk Will Never Die,” Lange said. “That’s our spirit, that’s our university. I think the team represented that. We have one goal. It will always be the goal. It always has been the goal. It was the goal tonight. Just be the most united team we can by the end of the season. I think we did that.”

The Hawks’ 16-17 record that they ended the year with represented a five-win improvement from a year ago, equaling the 2017-18 squad for the most wins on Hawk Hill in the last seven years. 

Lange does have some reason for optimism, including the fact that his squad went 10-7 from Jan. 14 onwards, and that most of his squad has eligibility remaining. 

Of course, this is the new era of college basketball, with the transfer portal and no penalty for first-time transfers. That means the first priority for Lange is to make sure his young core stays together, to keep hopes high for 2023-24.

“I’m not saying we’re not going to be a portal team,” Lange said. “You kind of have to believe in that at this stage of college basketball but we want our guys to be transformed by their experience on Hawk Hill. That’s what it’s all about and then we’ll get it done on the court. That I promise you.”

Getting it done on the court starts with Reynolds, Greer III, Fleming and freshman Christian Winborne, but also includes senior Cameron Brown, whom Lange referred to re-recruiting earlier during the Atlantic 10 tournament. 

“I love to compete as you guys can see, but I love to teach,” Lange added. “I’m excited about the individual development that we have to do with guys that we’re learning more about and they are young. I love the group that we’re bringing in. I love the two guys that we have sitting out [Christ Essandoko and Shawn Simmons].

“It’s not even about the rankings. You just don’t know the people. You just saw it right here. You just saw it. That’s what I’m excited about and this is how we’re going to do it at Saint Joseph’s.”

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