Daniel Ochefu, Halil Kanacevic

Villanova wins the Holy War, but St. Joe’s is still blowing close games

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The talent is there for St. Joseph’s to be as good as they want to be.

It was there last year as well, but the Hawks, for whatever reason, took home too many moral victories a year ago. What’s that mean? Well, it’s a nice way of saying that they were really good at being competitive and not so good at closing out games in which they had a late lead. The Hawks lost 14 games a year ago, and in 11 of them, they held a second half lead.

The thinking was that this year would be different. This is now an experienced, veteran team, as they returned everyone from last year’s 20-win campaign.

That’s why Tuesday’s 65-61 loss to Villanova is so disheartening.

Let’s ignore, for a second, that the Wildcats are St. Joe’s biggest rival and a fellow member of the Big 5. (This game is called the Holy War, after all.)

The Hawks had this game all but won. After Langston Galloway had hit his sixth three of the game with 2:16 remaining, St. Joe’s was up 61-56. But after two James Bell free throws, Halil Kanacevic turned the ball over. That led to a layup from Daniel Ochefu at the other end of the floor. On the ensuing possession, Kanacevic missed two free throws, which meant that when the Hawks lost track of Bell defensively, his three ball with 34 seconds left gave Villanova a 63-61 lead.

And that’s when things got really bad.

St. Joe’s called a timeout with 26 seconds left, but when they couldn’t get a shot off of the set that Martelli drew up in the timeout, they were forced to call another time out — their last of the game — with 11 seconds on the clock. That play resulted in Carl Jones running off of a high-ball screen from Galloway and kicking the ball out to 6-foot-9 CJ Aiken, who is a wanna-be jump-shooter that cannot dribble the ball. He got trapped, Jones came over to save him, and eventually the Hawks got lucky when the ball happened to go out of bounds off of Villanova with 3.5 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds, the Hawks were unable to get the ball in and Kanacevic was forced to try and bounce the ball off of the Villanova defender, which didn’t go well; it bounced off of him before going out of bounds.

Villanova ball.

And after two James Bell free throws, game over.

These are the games that St. Joe’s was supposed to be able to win this season.

If they want a real chance at winning the Atlantic 10 this season — which is as tough, deep and balanced as it has been in a long time — this needs to be a turning point. Every game in league play is going to be close. They cannot afford to salt away wins.

(As an aside, if you make the decision to flip a double-bird at the crowd on the road while playing in a game on national television, you probably shouldn’t choke away the game down the stretch. If anyone reading this PSA knows Halil Kanacevic, please pass this message along. Thank you.)

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

NEW PODCAST: Indiana, Cal, troublesome trends and a weekend preview

California's Jabari Bird celebrates a score against Oregon in the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016, in Berkeley, Calif. (AP Photo/Ben Margot)
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The gang is back together again for another episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk Podcast, with Rob Dauster hosting and Raphielle Johnson and Scott Phillips joining him. Today’s episode touched on big wins picked up Thursday night by California and Indiana, discussing the performances of those teams and also touching on their prospects down the line.

Also discussed were the recent performances of Iowa State, Providence and Texas A&M (which are you more worried about?), and some of the top games on this weekend’s schedule headlined by Kansas visiting Oklahoma. And if you’re a fan of seafood, you may take umbrage with some of Rob’s comments at the beginning of the podcast.

As always, you can subscribe to the podcast on either iTunes or Stitcher, and there’s also a link to listen to this podcast below. Thanks for listening.

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Key contests in Atlantic 10, Pac-12

Arizona head coach Sean Miller talks with guard Allonzo Trier (11) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Northwestern State in Tucson, Ariz., Sunday, Nov. 22, 2015. (Mamta Popat/Arizona Daily Star via AP)  ALL LOCAL TELEVISION OUT; PAC-12 OUT; MANDATORY CREDIT; GREEN VALLEY NEWS OUT
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: UCLA at No. 17 Arizona, 9:00 p.m.
The Bruins and Wildcats have already met once this season, with a Bryce Alford three-pointer giving UCLA an 87-84 win. But UCLA has continued to struggle with consistency since then, and the chance at payback should serve as a motivating factor for Arizona. Sean Miller’s team welcomed back Allonzo Trier in Saturday’s win at Washington, and in forward Ryan Anderson they have one of the conference’s best players. The “rivalry” aspect of this game should make it a good one, as UCLA tends to show up for big-name opponents, but it could also be another major blow to the Bruins’ fleeting hopes of getting back to the NCAA tournament.

THIS ONE’S GOOD, TOO: No. 19 Dayton at Rhode Island, 7:00 p.m.
The Rams have struggled with injuries all season, most recently dealing with Jarvis Garrett’s broken jaw and Kuran Iverson’s concussion. Garrett’s back on the floor, playing with a face mask that appears to be inspired by Hannibal Lecter, and it’s that team toughness that makes URI a serious threat to first-place Dayton at the Ryan Center (Iverson’s been medically cleared but remains a game-time decision). Charles Cooke has been outstanding for the Flyers this season, and Dayton’s depth makes them a tough matchup for any team much less one as banged up as URI.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR

1. As a result of No. 11 Oregon’s loss at Cal last night, No. 23 USC finds itself tied in the loss column atop the Pac-12 standings heading into their game at Arizona State (8:00 p.m.). Outside of keeping opponents off the offensive glass the Sun Devils have had issues defensively in conference play, and with the Trojans’ many scoring options led by guards Jordan McLaughlin and Julian Jacobs this will be a tough matchup for the home team.

2. Monmouth looks to maintain its lead atop the MAAC standings, as they visit Rider (9:00 p.m.). The Broncs haven’t been the conference contender many envisioned them being when the season began but they’re still dangerous, with players such as guard Teddy Okereafor capable of giving opponents fits. Justin Robinson, who’s been excellent at the point all season long, leads the way for a Monmouth team that still has hopes of earning an at-large bid should they need it.

3. Having lost to Yale last weekend, Columbia’s in a position where they need to hold serve ahead of the rematch in New York City March 5. That makes games like tonight’s against Penn (7:00 p.m.) that much more important for Kyle Smith’s Lions, who have done a good job of turning opponents over in league play (22.8 TO%). Penn’s had issues taking care of the basketball, and that combined with Columbia’s tandem of Maodo Lo and Alex Rosenberg could prove to be the difference at Levien Gym.

4. Two teams looking to make a push in the MAC East race meet in Buffalo, as the Bulls host Ohio (7:00 p.m.). Nate Oats’ team had its four-game win streak snapped by Toledo, with the Rockets beating Buffalo by two Wednesday night. They’ll look to rebound with a defense that has been the best in the MAC in conference play (tops in defensive efficiency and effective field goal percentage), but they have to take care of the basketball in order to do so.

5. Grand Canyon, which can’t play in the NCAA tournament as they’re still in the Division I transition process, looks to remain a game behind New Mexico State in the WAC standings. Dan Majerle’s Antelopes visit Seattle (10:00 p.m.), which handed GCU its first conference loss 13 days ago. GCU shot just 6-for-23 from three in that game, which they led by ten late in the first half. If Seattle is to win they’ll need to slow down the tandem of sophomore Joshua Braun and senior Grandy Glaze, who combine to average 31.5 points and 13.6 rebounds per game.