St. Joe's was then, Bucknell is now

The St. Joseph’s fans were all over Kevin Bettencourt early in the first half of Bucknell’s 69-62 win on Hawk Hill last night.

Bettencourt’s first three-point attempt missed everything, bringing the familiar chorus of "airball, airball" every time he touched the ball for the next several minutes.

It was Bettencourt, though, who had the last laugh. That early airball proved to be the only three-point try Bucknell’s 6-2 junior guard missed all night (box score). After that miss, Bettencourt hit his next five treys, including a pair back-to-back that shut up the crowd of 3,200 when St. Joe’s tried to claw its way back into the game late in the second half. Bettencourt finished with a team-high 21 points, leading Bucknell to its first-ever win in St. Joseph’s Alumni Memorial Field House.

"I don’t know if there has been any bigger wins than this one," said Bettencourt. "This is a pretty big name school. After what they did last year, this is pretty exciting. This is a good one."

To be certain, this is not last year’s St. Joseph’s team. Even though many of the names are the same, the Hawks are a mere shadow of the team that went 30-2 last season before losing in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Tournament. Gone are Jameer Nelson and Delonte West and their almost 40 combined points per game. Gone to is defensive stopper extraordinaire Tyrone Barley.

St. Joe’s, with the loss to Bucknell, is off to a 3-5 start that has Phil Martelli scratching his head in bewilderment.

"There’s lots of questions, not many answers, to be honest with you," said Martelli. "There are a lot of holes in the dike. You can’t patch them all."

Still, the Hawks are members of the Atlantic 10, a Philly Big 5 team, and a team that has dominated Bucknell dating to their days as league mates in the old East Coast Conference. On top of that, the game was at St. Joseph’s, where the Hawks have gone 40-3, 40-4 now, over the past four years, including 12 straight home wins coming in to last nights game.

For any Patriot League team, it would be a big win. For a Bucknell team with a head coach whose father played at St. Joe’s and a freshman guard, John Griffin, whose father used to coach the Hawks, it was huge.

"It’s really a good feeling," said Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, who was the point guard on the only other Bucknell team to beat St. Joseph’s. "This is big to me down here . . . There’s a lot of years when we were in the ECC when we came in here and they always seemed to get us pretty good. It feels good against a good ballclub."

The win was Bucknell's fifth in a row, improving their record to 8-4, their best start since 1992-93. Coming in the last game of 2004, it gives Bucknell a 19-12 record for the calendar year.

The Bison played well throughout the game, save for a few momentary lapses early against the St. Joe’s press. Bucknell shot 59 percent (13-of-22) in the first half, then took it up another notch or two in the second half, connecting on 15-of-22 (68 percent) including 7-for-8 from three-point range.

At the other end, Bucknell played tough defense throughout, holding St. Joseph’s to 37 percent shooting (20-of-54) for the game. The Bison also outrebounded the bigger Hawks, 29-27. About the only BU stat that didn’t look good in the final box score was its 21 turnovers.

Coaches always talk about the importance of the first five minutes of the second half. Bucknell provided a textbook demonstration of that concept. Trailing by one at the intermission, despite having outplayed St. Joseph’s everywhere but the foul line, the Bison opened the second half with a 12-3 run.

The run started with a Bettencourt trey on the Bison’s first possession, giving Bucknell a lead it would never relinquish. The Bison led by as many as 11 points before Abe Badmus picked up his fourth personal with 7:56 to go in the game.

Badmus was the unsung hero in this one for Bucknell. In addition to his 8 assists, 6 rebounds and 2 steals, his quickness on the perimeter defensively was a big factor in shutting down St. Joseph’s perimeter attack.

With Badmus sitting next to Flannery with four fouls, St. Joe’s cut the Bucknell lead to 55-53 on a pair of threes by Dwayne Lee and Pat Carroll. Flannery quickly hustled the sophomore point guard back on the floor and Bucknell silenced the crowd with a 14-2 run. Bettencourt’s back-to-back treys started the run. It was capped by a Badmus layup.

"Badmus is so important because he can get the ball wherever he wants to get it. Kevin and Charles (Lee) really feed off of that," Flannery said.

"I have a great admiration for the way they run offense," said Martelli. "The way they play basketball, I enjoyed watching it on tape. Everybody passes. Everybody moves. They have a team offense. It’s really a nice way of playing basketball."

Every Bison that saw action had at least one assist.

Lee finished 8-for-11 from the field, finishing with 17 points along with a game-high eight rebounds. Chris McNaughton added 10 points and did a good job on defense, holding St. Joe’s Dwayne Jones to one field goal and 4 points, well below his 12.4 ppg average.

Carroll led the Hawks with 21 points, 18 coming on three-pointers. Carroll was 6-of-15 outside the arc, 0-for-3 closer to the basket.

Truth be told, the only thing that really kept St. Joe’s from being blown right out of their own house was the officiating, which ranged from curious to downright awful.

How else can you explain the disparity in foul shots. St. Joseph’s went to the line 17 times, making 10. Bucknell only got to the foul line three times until the final minute of the game, when it doubled its total as St. Joe’s fouled on purpose to try to extend the game.

Somehow, despite playing every bit as physical as Bucknell, St. Joseph’s was the only team to reach the one-and-one in the first half. At the start of the second half, St. Joe’s picked up two quick personals, giving the appearance that things were going to even out. Three quick fouls in the first four minutes of the half on Bucknell point guard Abe Badmus showed that was not the case.

St. Joe’s reached the bonus when Badmus picked up his fourth. At that point, the Hawks had been whistled for only three second-half fouls.

This despite the fact Bucknell was the only team taking the ball to the hole. St. Joe’s shot nothing but jumpers most of the night, especially in the second half, when the Hawk’s first 12 points all came on treys. The Hawks first two-point bucket didn’t come until Chet Stachitas hit a little pull-up jumper from the left side of the lane with 8:28 to go. That was one of just three two-point buckets for St. Joseph’s in the second half.

Despite a double figures lead late in the game, Bucknell never did reach the double bonus, which might have been a good thing for the Bison, seeing as how they were 0-for-3 from the line in the final minute.

BISON CHIPS: Griffin was 2-for-4 from the field in his homecoming. The freshman guard stroked a three late in the first half to give the Bison a 31-29 lead and hit another from the arc during the 14-2 run that iced it for Bucknell. Asked after how many times he had hit a shot from where he took the first three, Griffin replied, “Probably a lot. I’d say in the thousands. This court is a great court. I know it pretty well. This is like my basketball home. This is where I grew up basketball-wise.” . . . Griffin will get a chance to revisit Alumni Memorial Field House in the 2006-2007 season. The Hawks will visit Bucknell next season as their part of the two-for-one scheduling deal . . . The second half was easily Bucknell’s best shooting half of the season. The Bison’s previous best was a 60-percent second half at Cornell . . . The 63.6 percent field goal percentage for the game was Bucknell’s season-best, topping a 55.6 percent effort in a Nov. 19 win over Rider . . . This is Bucknell’s first five-game out of conference win streak since 1970-71.

Other views:

In the Inquirer, Dana Pennett O'Neil focused on what is wrong with St. Joe's:
For sure, the Bison are a good team. A good team in the Patriot League. St. Joe's isn't supposed to lose to teams in the Patriot League, especially like this.
Excuse me Dana, but couldn't we haver made the same argument about St. Joe's last year? Teams from the Atlantic 10 aren't supposed to make it to the Eleite Eight, aren't supposed to beat Texas Tech, Wake Forest, Gonzaga, or Boston College, all Hawk victims last year.

With scholarships, the better teams in the Patriot League are going to win some games like this.

Here's Ray Parillo's take on the game from the Inquirer.

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