This was a tournament week for St. Joseph’s as the calendar turned from November to December. Which is to say that it meant everything and nothing all at the same time.
The Hawks used a three-point barrage to down No. 18 Villanova on Wednesday night in Radnor to reach Saturday’s Big 5 Classic championship game. The first month of the basketball season was ending, and St. Joe’s is on a mission for things that come after the cold. March is a long way away.
So on Thursday, St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange had a message for his team.
“I told these guys that we were going to play this game like it was the last game of the year,” Lange said late Saturday night. “When you wake up Friday morning, Wednesday’s win is over. It’s done. And we’re going to take the next two days and see, can we play like this is the last game of the season? Because I wanted them to attack this opportunity like that.”
They nearly ran away from Penn in their first pod game. Then they completely controlled their win over Villanova. On Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center, the Hawks left little doubt about who the best team in the Big 5 is this season.
St. Joe’s got 22 points from Rasheer Fleming, never trailed, and beat Temple, 74-65, to win the inaugural Big 5 Classic championship. The format was different, sure, but call it the Hawks’ first share of the title since 2011-12, and their first outright win since Jameer Nelson lorded over Hawk Hill in 2003-04.
A banner was raised inside the Wells Fargo Center after it all ended.
“To have the amount of Philadelphia kids that we have on the team, to have guys from South Jersey on our team … to be a part of this was an appointed and anointed time,” Lange said. “Unfortunately, our season is not over, so we have to get some rest and get back to work on Monday.”
Fleming’s big night
When St. Joe’s rolled over Villanova Wednesday night, the Hawks showed off the potent three-guard attack that will surely give plenty of Atlantic 10 teams fits in the coming months.
Saturday night, however, when the Hawks weren’t shooting from deep at a high clip, they leaned on Fleming, a Camden native.
The 6-foot-9 forward led all scorers with 22 points, a career-high, while adding nine rebounds, four blocks, and three assists. The versatile sophomore did it inside and out. The Hawks used his athletic ability and threw lob passes his way. They also used his outside shooting to help keep Temple at bay.
Fleming, a team captain, finished 8-for-11 from the field and made all four of his free throws.
“All my teammates trust me in practice to make shots,” Fleming said. “Today it just flowed.”
“Non-stop fight,” Hawks guard Erik Reynolds II said when asked what impressed him most about Fleming. “He brings that anyway, but now you guys get to see it.”
“He was great,” Temple coach Adam Fisher said. “He steps out and hits threes, makes all his free throws … he was awesome.”
St. Joe’s led by 11 at halftime despite turning it over nine times. The Hawks’ lead swelled to 15 points early in the second half, but Temple used a 13-2 run — combined with some cold St. Joe’s shooting — to cut the deficit to four.
“There’s no 11-point shot,” Fisher said. “So you just got to chip away.”
That run, however, was stopped by Roman Catholic grad Lynn Greer III, who finished off a tough drive through contact. His three-point play pushed the Hawks’ lead back to seven.
Two possessions later, Xzayvier Brown, another Roman product, flicked a lob pass to Fleming, whose dunk pushed the lead back to nine.
Temple eventually cut the deficit to five, but the Hawks had too much firepower down the stretch.
Temple got big days from freshman Zion Stanford (19 points, eight rebounds), Jordan Riley (20 points, eight rebounds), and Matteo Picarelli (11 points), but got little help from others.
Joining Fleming in double figures for St. Joe’s was Greer (14), Reynolds (11), and Cameron Brown (11).
La Salle stuns Penn
The middle game of the day ended in thrilling fashion. Penn’s Clark Slajchert gave the Quakers a two-point lead with a driving layup with 4 seconds left in overtime.
But La Salle inbounded the ball, and Khalil Brantley raced upcourt before drilling a banked-in, game-winning three-pointer from just inside half court in the Explorers’ 93-92 triumph.