By Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
HAWK HILL — St. Joe’s had its ballooning expectations deflated Friday night.
The Hawks had a chance to start 4-0 for the first time since 2003-04, but instead laid an egg against Texas A&M Commerce. St. Joe's couldn't overcome its poor shooting performance and sloppy ball security in a 57-54 loss at Hagan Arena
The Lions had an answer every time St. Joe's made a play. When the Hawks got a layup, they responded with a three. When the Hawks got a stop, the Lions forced a turnover.
Jaret von Rosenberg's Texas A&M Commerce team (2-4) turned up the pressure from the get-go, and the Hawks (3-1) failed to respond until it was too late.
"We have to just keep getting better," St. Joe’s fifth-year head coach Billy Lange said. "We learned that the ball has to move faster. We have to cut harder. We have to learn that you have to finish through contact. We have to learn how to pursue defensive rebounds when tough shots are taken.
St. Joe's junior Lynn Greer scored 13 points Friday against Texas A&M-Commerce. (Photo: Anthony Pompilii/CoBL)
"Even if we would've pulled the game out at the end I'd be giving you the same exact answer. There is always a lot to learn. We had a terrific practice yesterday. I thought our guys were ready to go."
The Lions were more than ready. Their denial defense was an unexpected development, which gave the Hawks fits early on and helped them hold the lead for the entire contest. They were disciplined defensively and timely with their steal chances, causing 15 turnovers, recording eight steals, and blocking six shots throughout the game.
Lange pointed out that the Hawks were familiar with that defense style from a preseason scrimmage with Providence. Still, even once the Hawks settled in, they couldn't hit enough shots to take a lead.
The Hawks shot 27% from the field and 20% from three.
Erik Reynolds II, the Hawks' leading scorer, averaging 15.3 points per game and shooting 45% from the field this season was ice cold, going scoreless in the first half and finishing with 11 points on 3-of-12 shooting.
Lynn Greer III led the St. Joe's scoring effort with 13 points on 5-of-11 shooting but also committed four turnovers.
"We missed good shots, and you have to make them," Lange said. "We missed challenged shots at the rim that are a decision. Do you finish? Do you kick it out?
"When teams dial up pressure like they did, you have to play harder on offense. That's what we'll take out of that."
The Lions weren't perfect offensively either, hitting 36% of their field goals, but they got big-time shots down the stretch from Tommie Lewis. The 6-foot-2 senior finished with a 17-point, 10-rebound double-double, shooting 50% from three.
They protected the rock, too, only turning the ball over seven times.
TAMUC had a gauntlet of road games to start the season, beginning with Texas A&M, then Texas Tech, and finally Kentucky before trekking up Hawk Hill. Still, coming off a 13-20 season and predicted to finish seven in the 10-team Southland Conference, the Lions, whose only win came against a D2 squad, presented a foe that a team with expectations like St. Joe’s hopes to handle.
With the loss, the Hawks could not reach the 4-0 mark that has eluded them since the 2003-2004 season. That year, under head coach Phil Martelli, St. Joe's finished with a 30-2 record, went undefeated in the Atlantic 10, finished No. 5 in the AP and Coaches poll, and appeared in the NCAA Tournaments Elite Eight.
Texas A&M Commerce also snapped St. Joe's four-game winning streak at Hagan Arena dating back to last season.
"Like I said in there, our goal is not to be undefeated. That's not our goal," Lange said. "Our goal is not to win every home game. We would love for those things to happen, but our (goal) is to be the most united team we can be by the end of the season."
St. Joe's has the weekend to re-group before heading south to face No. 17 Kentucky on Monday.
After Kentucky, Lange’s squad will head back to Hawk Hill with a matchup against Sacred Heart before traveling to Villanova where an appearance in the first-ever Big 5 Classic championship game will be on the line.
"You need this type of opposition," Lange said of the loss.