Saint Joseph's struggled with a determined Fordham squad on Wednesday night, but the Hawks found a way to grind out a 66-62 victory at Rose Hill Gym in The Bronx.
The Hawks got off to an encouraging start as they jumped to a quick 9-2 lead as they found open lay-ups and dunks easy to come by on their opening possessions.
Those open opportunities became much harder for the Hawks to find after an early Tom Pecora timeout as Fordham shored things up defensively. Branden Frazier scored 10 of the Rams first 14 points as Fordham closed the gap to 15-14 with 11:45 left in the first half.
Saint Joseph's (12-7, 3-3 Atlantic 10) had a scoring drought towards the end of the first half, going over five and a half minutes without scoring a point. Fordham (6-15, 2-4 A-10) took advantage by going on a 9-0 run during this stretch and had themselves a 30-24 advantage with 46 seconds remaining in the opening half.
Two buckets from the Hawks after a Phil Martelli timeout before halftime brought the Hawks to within two at the break.
The second half was highly competitive, with neither team leading by more than five points during the closing twenty minutes.
After a Mandell Thomas dunk gave the Rams a 57-56 advantage with 2:49 to play, Halil Kanacevic responded with a clutch three-pointer to give the Hawks a two-point edge with just under two and a half minutes in the contest.
Less than a minute later the Rams would re-take the lead on the strength of a lay-up by Ryan Canty, plus a foul. Fortunately for the Hawks, Canty is only a 28% free throw shooter and was true to form as he missed his shot from the charity stripe, keeping Fordham's lead at just one.
In the final minute and two seconds it would be a battle from the free throw line which would determine the outcome of the game.
Carl Jones, who has struggled at the line this season as he was only hitting on 63% of his free throws coming into the game, hit seven of eight free throws late, giving Saint Joseph's an edge.
Meanwhile, Frazier, who led all scorers with 24 points, missed the front end of a one-and-one opportunity with 26 seconds remaining and Fordham trailing 63-62, with Kanacevic corralling the rebound and the Rams eventually sending Jones to the line, where he only connected on one of two free throws.
Fordham had one last chance to pull out a victory, or at least force overtime, but after a Pecora timeout, Frazier stepped on the sideline, committing a turnover. Jones went to the free throw line again and hit both free throws to seal the victory for the Hawks.
Jones led Saint Joseph's with 19 points while Kanacevic added 12 points and 7 rebounds off of the bench in the victory. Ronald Roberts earned another double-double as he scored 10 points and brought in 10 rebounds while also fouling out of the contest. Chris Wilson was also solid as he had 10 points, 7 rebounds, and 4 assists.
Besides Frazier's game-high 24, Thomas scored a career-high 17 in the losing effort for the hard-working Rams.
It certainly was not a thing of beauty, but Saint Joseph's earned a hard fought victory against an improving Fordham team. It is important to note that the Rams were without their best player as Chris Gaston continues to recover from a knee injury. In the same token, the Hawks have had a stomach bug running through the team over the last week and it was clear that Langston Galloway was not at 100%, although he battled valiantly in the game.
Saint Joseph's has an opportunity to go over the .500 mark in a closely contested Atlantic 10 on Saturday evening in what will be the last regular season match-up against Temple while the Owls are a member of the conference. Tip-off at Hagan Arena is slated for 6 p.m. in front of what should be a raucous crowd.