Jerome Taylor (@ThatGuy_Rome)
HAWK HILL – Up two with less than 20 seconds remaining, the ball was in Erik Reynolds II's hand on the left wing.
By that point, the senior already had 17 points and was looking to put a bow on one of the best games in Hagan Arena of the Billy Lange era.
But as the shot ricocheted off the back-iron, Princeton got an opportunity to secure the most significant defensive rebound of the night.
Cameron Brown had other plans.
Brown emerged from the melee that ensued on the baseline with the ball and got it to Xzayvier Brown. He found Reynolds, who was promptly fouled before knocking down two free throws to make it a two-possession game with 11 seconds to go to wrap up the 74-70 victory.
St. Joe's junior Erik Reynolds scored 21 points in Sunday's win over Princeton. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
“It was less about getting the rebound than his execution upon the rebound, ” Lange said. “Chinning the basketball, putting his eyes on the rim, kicking the basketball out, and giving us a second possession, that’s a great senior play.”
“Cam’s been here for a long time, and he knows what it takes to win, and he’ll do anything to win… he’s that leader for us,” Lynn Greer III said.
The Hawks (8-2) knocked off a previously undefeated Princeton (9-1) team and gave the Hawks their fifth straight win for the first time since December 2015.
Reynolds may have been the closer for St. Joe’s, but Greer III lifted them early. The Hawks may have got the biggest offensive rebound of the game, but Princeton (9-1) dominated the offensive glass in the first half, snagging eight offensive boards to the Hawks’ 14 total rebounds in the half.
The result was that the Tigers got a lot of extra possessions for their shooters (who went 16-38 from deep in the game).
To keep up, Greer III (18 pts) paced the Hawks in the first half with 11 points and was disruptive defensively, with three first-half steals (he finished with 4) that sparked the Hawks' fast break.
To further unlock Greer’s scoring ability, Lange has found it beneficial to play him with his former high school teammate, Xzayvier Brown.
“I think [X. Brown] and Lynn are fantastic together. Lynn is a great second-touch player on ball reversals,” Lange said. “[Playing with Brown] gives Lynn a chance to score. We’re talking about one of the leading scorers in the history of the Philadelphia Catholic League, so it allows him to have that part of his DNA freed up.”
“I’ve known X since he was a baby over at Roman… We have a really good connection, we’ve been playing together for a long time,” Greer III said. “He knows where I like to get the ball… he does a really good job of knowing where everyone wants to catch the ball or where they’re good at scoring.”
One of those moments came when Brown (10 points) made an entry pass to Greer on the left low block. After receiving it, Greer spun away from the double team and converted an and-one layup.
In the following possession, Brown beat his man off the dribble, and just like the older former Cahillite, he completed an and-one.
Hagan Arena erupted.
But only briefly. The Tigers never went away and had a freshman of their own who emerged as a silencer all night. Dalen Davis went 5-for-5 and had 13 points in 14 minutes, and whenever it seemed like the momentum swung too far in the Hawks’ direction, he had an answer.
St. Joe's junior Lynn Greer scored 18 points in Sunday's win over Princeton. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
However, throughout the game, the mostly filled Hagan arena, which included alums like Deandre Bembry and former assistant coach (and player) Jim O’Brien, created an environment that felt like they were witnessing a re-emergence on Hawk Hill.
The crowd made its presence felt in crunch time.
With the game tied at 68 with under two minutes remaining, Princeton’s Xaivian Lee (20 pts) missed both free throws. Then, the same thing happened with 1:17 remaining. Princeton had a chance to tie the game at 70, but Davis missed both free throws.
“I really enjoyed the atmosphere that our students brought out … and I feel like their presence right there caused them to miss a couple of free throws,” Reynolds II said.
Contrast that with Reynolds, who capped his game-high 21-point outing by going 4-for-4 at the free throw line in the final 12 seconds to seal the win for the Hawks.
After the game, both coaches commended each other, acknowledging that it’s not always easy for either school to book games due to their propensity for creating blemishes on the team’s resumes.
“I think this is a high-level college basketball game, and the reality is teams in the Atlantic-10, and great, elite Ivy-League teams can’t get games. No one wants to play them,” Lange said. “I just think from a college basketball standpoint, this is a great game.”
And the logic behind bigger names schools wanting to avoid teams like Princeton or this year’s Saint Joseph’s team may be sound, but it doesn’t mean it’s good for the sport.
Any college basketball fan could tell you there was a healthy nostalgia in Hagan Arena on Sunday.
Instead of minimizing risks, iron sharpening iron would be good for bigger-name schools and the sport as a whole.
“I think they’re an elite team. … I think Xaivian Lee is an NBA-level point guard, Caden Pierce can play on any college team in the country, and [Matt] Allocco is phenomenal,” Lange said.
“You make a schedule to let Xzayvier Brown grow up, to let Erik Reynolds be in those moments, to let the team become more united. … I give Princeton credit because they have the courage to [play these games].”
After all, Princeton received 35 AP votes last week, and if not for a bad loss to Texas A&M Commerce, the Hawks might be ranked in the next edition of the AP poll.
Instead of looking at what could be a bad loss, there could be an opportunity for a good win.
That’s what the Hawks got on Sunday.