In recent contests against Xavier, Fordham and Temple, the Saint Joseph's Hawks made clutch plays late in all three games to find a way to grab a victory. It seemed as if the Hawks were finally breaking away from the disturbing trend of throwing away second half leads.
On Wednesday night, Saint Joseph's found that not coughing up second half leads is a hard habit to break.
Dayton (13-9, 3-5 Atlantic 10) finished the game on a 24-11 run on their way to a 60-54 victory over Saint Joseph's (13-8, 4-4 A-10) at the UD Arena, extending a winless run in Dayton for the Hawks which stretches back to 2001.
After a closely contested first half, Saint Joseph's began to pull away early in the second half, taking their largest lead of the game after a C.J. Aiken slam which was perfectly set-up by Halil Kanacevic gave the Hawks a 43-36 advantage with 12:10 to play.
The Hawks offense began to sputter right after the Aiken dunk, with offensive sets becoming quite stagnant, Saint Joseph's only hit one field goal over a stretch of six minutes and forty-five seconds. Dayton countered with a 13-4 run during this time period, with a Josh Benson lay-up giving the Flyers a 49-47 lead with 4:38 to play.
The Hawks did respond twice after Dayton took the lead, with Langston Galloway hitting a jumper that gave the Hawks a 52-51 lead with 2:41 left.
It would be the last time Saint Joseph's led in the game.
Over the final 2:19 of the contest, Dayton's Kevin Dillard exemplified what this Saint Joseph's team does not have on its roster: A go-to scorer who comes up big for their team in the clutch.
Dillard scored the final nine points of the game for Dayton, and nine of the final eleven points scored in the game overall. First, he hit an open three-pointer after the Hawks defenders bit on a shot fake from Flyers power forward Devin Oliver, a 24 percent shooter from long range, putting Dayton up by two.
After a Saint Joseph's turnover, it was Dillard again, hitting a jumper from inside the arc to extend Dayton's lead to four. The Hawks got two free throws from Chris Wilson to cut the deficit down to two with 55 seconds left.
Late in the shot clock on the ensuing possession, Dillard drove hard to the basket and drew a foul. The senior point guard coolly knocked down both free throws to re-affirm the Flyers four-point advantage. Galloway missed a three-pointer seconds later and the Hawks were forced to foul Dillard once again.
Dillard sank both free throws once again. The Flyers floor general is a perfect 30-for-30 from the charity stripe in the final two minutes of a game this season. Dillard's final two makes accounted for the 60-54 final score.
Dillard led all scorers with 23 points, with 12 of those points coming in the final 5:39 of the game and 9 points scored in the last 2:20 of the contest. Dy'Shawn Pierre was the only other double-digit scorer for the Flyers with 10 points.
Carl Jones led Saint Joseph's with 12 points in a team-high 37 minutes in what could have been the final collegiate basketball game Jones plays in his home state of Ohio. Aiken added 11 points for the Hawks, including an incredible one-handed slam which featured seemingly superhuman hang time early in the second half which initially gave Saint Joseph's a second half edge.
At several points this season, Hawks coach Phil Martelli has downplayed some of the expectations heaped upon his team. I personally have disagreed with many of his assessments, thinking they were an attempt to cover up some of his own deficiencies.
While those coaching deficiencies have been on display at times during the season, Martelli is right about this particular team maybe not being as talented as many observers and pundits suggest. Despite recent evidence to the contrary, the Hawks do not have a winning mentality late in close games.
Saint Joseph's also does not have a clutch, go-to player like Kevin Dillard to rely on to get them through a rough patch on the floor offensively. There is not one scorer on the Hawks roster that stands out as a player you want the get the ball to for the final shot of a game. This is a quality that is usually necessary for a team to be able to win the Atlantic 10, or reach an NCAA Tournament.
Saint Joseph's ends their two-game road stretch on Saturday afternoon as they are scheduled to face Massachusetts with a 2 p.m. tip time scheduled. However, with a blizzard forecast to make its presence felt over New England, it will bear watching whether this game will actually go on as scheduled. Please check with me on Twitter @ryanhorne1028 for the latest updates on the status of Saturday's game.