NEW YORK — Getting to Manhattan, then to Brooklyn, then back to Manhattan was an absolute grind. Legs burning, sweat dripping, the aromas of the city and the subway stations were nothing short of disgusting (Not that I expected anything else), but after a speed-walking marathon, and a sweaty Polo thermal sweater that’s going right in the wash, I was able to successfully catch two games in two boroughs (Apologies to my alma mater La Salle, nothing personal, just a time constraint between you and Villanova, I’ll see you tomorrow).
They don’t call it March Madness for nothin’.
First order of business: Watch St. Joe’s take on George Washington in the second round of the A-10 Tournament.
Yesterday, it was the Lynn Greer III show (Shoutout WordPress for not letting me publish the recap from yesterday).
Today, it was the Erik Reynolds II show.
In a highlighted matchup against George Washington’s prolific scorer James Bishop who led the A-10 in scoring this year with 21.5 ppg, Reynolds, who came in second in the conference with 19.2 ppg, popped off for 34 points, a new career-high for him in a 87-76 win over George Washington to advance to the A-10 Tournament quarter-finals.
“James Bishop is a phenomenal player, I respect him a lot, what he does is very impressive,” Reynolds said regarding the matchup, “but I just came out and do what I do and be the best we can regardless.”
Reynolds is such a fascinating player to watch in my opinion. He’s insanely quick, his shot-making ability is unreal and the thing that I think separates him from many of the other guards in the league is that he is so dang crafty around the rim. You mix his craftiness with his explosive speed and very few can stop him when he has his head down barreling towards the rim.
“When we recruited him I told him that he was going to change the program,” St. Joe’s head coach Billy Lange said. “There’s so many good players out there and Saint Joseph’s has always had really good players particularly at the guard spot, we try to recruit the person as much as the player trust me we’re happy with who he is with his talent, his spirit is the thing that you don’t see, it’s amazing, he’s empathetic, he’s compassionate, he’s aware, he’s humble, he’s a great teammate, he’s grateful, I’m happy for him to perform like this because I know all the other things that no one in this room sees, he’s a great ambassador for Saint Joseph’s University.”
When you mix the explosiveness and the shot-making ability with Lynn Greer III’s (Who scored 14) pace and patience as well as his own shot-making ability, and then you bring Cam Brown (Who scored 18) into the fold with his shot-making ability, the Hawks are a really dangerous team, and you’ve seen it on display these last two nights with wins over Loyla-Chicago and now George Washington.
“To have a game like this on a second night, it’s about endurance,” Lange said. “Our players I thought showed that, and I think it was everybody, we needed all of that to defeat GW to stay alive here in Brooklyn.”
A big theme through St. Joe’s two games in the tournament is how the freshmen have played.
In their win over Loyola-Chicago, it was freshman guard Christian Winborne that exploded for 16 points, the most he’s had in a game since December 3rd against Fairleigh Dickinson. Today, it was Rasheer Fleming’s time to shine.
The Camden native scored 12 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a critical performance for him. Fleming’s 12 points were the most he’s scored since Feb. 18 at Davidson. Fleming also hit a pair of key three-pointers late in the game.
Seeing the two heralded freshman grow in March in a spot like the A-10 Tournament at the Barclays Center is everything Lange could’ve asked for.
“The old thing we talk about is becoming and it’s a huge word in our program,” Lange said. “The world is all about arriving and it puts pressure on these guys and that’s okay, you’ve earned the pressure to play at a place like Saint Joseph’s but they have to become the best player they can be and each season is different and each game is different, I actually thought Christian was terrific tonight on James Bishop, I thought he did an amazing job, statistically Rasheer will show better and he rebounded well and he knocked down two really big threes and this is a typical freshman year one game I’m here the next game I’m here, but the consistency of their effort has been really impressive for us.”
It’s going to be a real quick turnaround for St. Joes, who takes on the 3-seeded Dayton Flyers at 5:00 once again. It’ll be the Hawks third game in three days, but Lange doesn’t look at it like that.
“Clearly the team that’s rested probably has a better advantage physically, we know that,” Lange said. “So what can we do to put ourselves into optimal shape to just play one game, as soon as you start putting in their mind ‘we’re playing our third game, we’re playing our third game,’ you start to build a little bit of an excuse and so the body will follow the mind in my opinion, if we condition our minds to believe that our bodies are equipped to do this, we’ll get the most out of us that we can tomorrow and we’re gonna need it, Dayton’s terrific.”
St. Joe’s has played Dayton just once this season, a 76-56 loss in Ohio all the way back on January 4th.
Needless to say, St. Joe’s looks like a different team from then, and they’ll be recovering like crazy tonight.
“That process has already begun,” Lange said. “I’m adamant about those things, how we hydrate, how we eat, what time do we go to bed, put your phone down, recovery boots, stretching, you have to do everything right now and get them focused on playing 40 minutes.”
As soon as the Saint Joseph press conference concluded, it was a straight B-line to the Subway station for me, trying to hop on the Q Train to make it back to Herald Square station in Manhattan in time for tip-off of Villanova-Georgetown which was some time around 8:15.
I made it and as I was consuming the scraps of what was left from the media spread (Which was a salad down to its final leaves, a couple of rolls with butter, and a few pieces of fun-sized Hershey’s chocolate bars) I could tell the game that I hustled and bustled to get to was all but over.
I know, crazy to say that about a game that just tipped off, but Georgetown only led for 24 seconds in the first half and Villanova never looked back, snatching the lead away and rolling the lowly Hoyas who are almost a sure thing to move on from Patrick Ewing at Head Coach.
Nova led by 21 at halftime, 41-20.
At this point, I was more invested in the La Salle-Duquense game that was happening across the East River and as this game got more out of hand, the more invested I got in the Explorers contest.
Good thing I was, because they ended up beating Duquesne 81-70 to set up a matchup with Fordham at 7:00 at Barclays, following Saint Joseph’s-Dayton.
Needless to say I’m not leaving that one (Thank you Big East for the 9:30ish tip for Villanova).
But back to the Wildcats, it was a ho-hum victory where they came out on top 80-48 in once again, a game that was not even remotely close whatsoever.
We didn’t really learn a lot. The Wildcats didn’t have much to gain except moving on to the next round, but with the way they were playing heading into this one, and combine that with the season that Georgetown was having, this one seemed like more of a formality than an actual game heading into it.
Villanova had five score in double-figures for them tonight.
Cam Whitmore had 19 points
Justin Moore had 13 points
Brandon Slater, Mark Armstrong, and Brendan Hausen all had 10 points.
This game was more about managing minutes considering that Villanova would coast in this one. If they want to win the entire thing, they would need to win four games in four days, no easy task. Not a single player played 30 minutes or more.
“I think we’re still a work in progress,” Villanova head coach Kyle Neptune said. “I think we can still get better. Our goal is to be the best team we can be by the end of the season. I think we can still reach that goal.”
Sitting courtside tonight was a man that owned this building for seven seasons, Carmelo Anthony.
He was shown on the jumbotron, wearing a neon orange hoodie so you couldn’t miss him, but there was a reason why he was here.
He wasn’t just here to check out the conference tournament of his former school (Syracuse, who is now in the ACC), he was here to watch Whitmore.
Why?, you might ask.
Well, the two have a relationship together. With Carmelo having ties to the DMV area and Whitmore hailing from Maryland, the NBA legend has taken the young Whitmore under his wing.
“Definitely a mentor, long-time friend.” Whitmore said. “And same thing with his background, his family. So just a good relationship we have with each other.”
Up next for Villanova is a 9:30 date with Creighton, a team they demolished a few weeks ago back in Philly 79-67 (The score is closer than it was). Villanova also could’ve won in Creighton, but crumbled late and lost 66-61 in Omaha on Feb. 4.
Split the difference, and given the location of tomorrow’s game, I think there’s a real shot Villanova can pull off the “upset” (Don’t have a line at the time of writing but I’d imagine Creighton is a slight favorite, if not a pick’em believe it or not).
“At this time of the year, you just throw out what happened before.” Neptune said. “And now we’re in a tournament situation. So we’re just thinking about this game against Creighton. We’ll go back to the hotel. We’ll rest up and we’ll start game planning.”
Just like St. Joe’s and I’d imagine La Salle, it’s going to be a lot of rest and recovery for the players, and a lot of game-planning for the coaches back at the Hotel.
For me, it’s back on the good ol’ NJTransit and heading back to Bucks County so I can rest up for a personal tripleheader tomorrow.
Just a reminder:
5:00 Saint Joseph’s vs Dayton at Barclays Center in the A-10 Tournament Quarter-finals
7:00 La Salle vs Fordham at Barclays Center in the A-10 Tournament Quarter-finals
9:30 Villanova vs Creighton at Madison Square Garden in the Big East Tournament Quarter-finals.
Yours truly will be there for all three, even though I’ll probably only catch the second half of Nova-Creighton, but regardless, I’m looking forward to it and you can follow all of it on my twitter account @APetolillo.
“This is March.”