PHILADELPHIA — The cohesion and chemistry of the Dayton Flyers was no match for the young Saint Joseph’s Hawks on Sunday. Edged out in the final minutes at home, 80-67, the Hawks simply could not finish their flight to victory.
However, that victorious path finally felt within Saint Joe’s’ clutches — in flashes — during their second Atlantic 10 game. At the helm, redshirt junior Ryan Daly made explosive impact plays at both ends of the court. Through hard-fought shots in the paint or viciously quick rebounds, Daly’s relentless hustle lead to a game-high 22 points and 12 rebounds.
Even with Daly’s double-double, and the burgeoning three-point arc of freshman Cameron Brown, the Hawks did not close it out. They further failed to capitalize on potential momentum-shifting advantages, like a tied halftime score and foul trouble for Dayton star Obi Toppin.
In coach Billy Lange’s inaugural season on Hawk Hill, this loss to Dayton was the second gritty defeat against an AP Top 25 team — Saint Joe’s previously lost 78-66 to ranked Villanova in December. Much like Saint Joe’s’ final score with the Flyers, the Hawks’ efforts-in-totality against the Wildcats were far more nail-biting than the final scoreboard reflection. In fact, Saint Joe’s hung on within three points as close as the 2:30 mark of the second half against Nova. And still, swift defeat was delivered to the Hawks in the last trickling minutes.
It’s becoming a pattern of almost-victories that Lange has picked up on. Refusing to settle for conciliatory comfort, Lange expressed that he does not want hear “‘you hung with Dayton hard’ or ‘you played Villanova tough.’”
“We have to just erase that mindset,” he said. “I want that wiped out, completely wiped out.
“Part of the mindset that we have to change just universally,” he said. “We can’t be satisfied with being the little engine that could. That’s not at all what this program should be about, has been about, or wants to be about. We want to be a national contender. That’s the goal.”
How does Saint Joe’s turn around a 3-11 season to get there?
“We gotta start with the guys in that locker room right now,” Lange said. “And I tell them: that’s their calling. It’s not an NCAA Tournament berth, it’s not the greatest record in the history of Saint Joseph’s — no, heck no. We’re here to be reckoned with and thought of as a national contender like this program should.”
Lange conceded his Hawks still have struggles to overcome.
“We’ve got a lot of work to do here to keep getting better,” he said. “But they don’t quit. They don’t. And sometimes they hang their heads because they want to win so bad and I thought [Sunday] they did. They kept fighting and we made some mistakes that teams make when they’re new.”
Saint Joseph’s gets its next chance at redemption Wednesday, Jan. 8 at home against Duquesne.