BROOKLYN – With five minutes left in the semifinals of the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic on Friday night, St. Joseph’s was down 63-57 to No. 20 Notre Dame when Langston Galloway went diving for a loose ball near the sideline. A member of the Fighting Irish landed on the back of his head as he was sprawled out on the floor, driving his face into the ground with enough force that it knocked out one of Galloway’s front teeth.
The game went to a timeout as Galloway laid on the floor. He was helped off with a towel over his face to stop the bleeding.
There were exactly five minutes left on the clock when he was taken out.
Just 23 seconds later, after Ronald Roberts made one of two free throws, Galloway was back on the floor, providing the Hawks with the spark they needed to make an 8-0 run to close out regulation and tie the game at 66. And Galloway not only scored four of the points in that run, he hit the game-tying bucket, a reverse lay-up off of a baseline drive, while providing the defensive effort that helped hold Notre Dame’s dynamic back court silent over the final four minutes of the game.
“Langston just worked on every single possession tonight defensively,” head coach Phil Martelli said after the game. The Irish didn’t get their first points in overtime until there was just 1:09 left, and at that point, St. Joe’s run had reached 13-0 over an eight minute stretch. They would go on to win 79-70.
The irony of it all?
Langston Galloway actually had an 0ff-night. In addition to losing a tooth, he finished with just 13 points and shot 5-13 from the floor. And while those are pretty good numbers, they aren’t when you consider that Galloway averaged 15.5 points last season while shooting 46.6% from beyond the arc and that the Hawks were playing without their leading scorer from last season, as Carl Jones won’t finish his suspension until tomorrow.
The key, however, was that Galloway played his best at the most important time, something that the Hawks weren’t known for last season. Of the 14 games they lost last year, they were winning in the second half in 11 of them. The only games they lost by double-digits came at Xavier, at Temple and at home against St. Louis. Talent wasn’t the issue for this group last year. Finishing was.
“We’ve been harping with the team about finishing possessions,” Martelli said. “Scores and stops. It’s not spurts in games like that. It’s do you score and do you stop. Our defense got better as the game got longer.”
One great sign for the Hawks is the ability of their big and athletic front court to defend a team that plays with three guards and a forward that spends the majority of his time on the perimeter. The versatility of that group — Ronald Roberts, CJ Aiken and Halil Kanocevic — is astounding, really.
Roberts, who finished with 21 points and 16 boards, was guarding Patrick Connaughton, who is a three-point sniper through and through. Kanocevic had 15 points, eight boards, three steals and three blocks while handing out a team high six assists and defending center Jack Cooley. Aiken was credited with three blocks — a number Martelli deemed too low by asking if the official scorekeeper was “a union worker? Did he have to be home by midnight?” — and probably had three more while helping keep the floor spread with his ability to shoot the three.
“We had to say ‘Ron, you have to be a perimeter defender,'” Martelli said. “We’re going this way. We’ll work the kinks out as we go with these three big guys. They’re three of our five best players.”
The play of Chris Wilson has to be noted as well. Filling in for Jones, Wilson finished with 19 points, three assists and just a single turnover, which has to be comforting for Martelli given that he had five players spend more than 40 minutes on the floor.
And while the cohesion of the Hawk’s front court and the emergence of Wilson is important, it would have all been moot if St. Joe’s had lost to Notre Dame.
“Last year we would have folded and lost that game,” Galloway said. “This year we came back and we won. It’s definitely big for our confidence, knowing that we have to finish this year, knowing that we have to step up to the plate every game. We might go through adversity every game, and that’s what we did, we fought through adversity and won.”
A win isn’t the only thing that Galloway took out of this game, however. He’s also got a memento to commemorate the win.
“I have the tooth,” he said. “They tried to put it back in, but it hurt to much.”
Are you going to start wearing a mouthguard now?
“Definitely. Every game.”
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.