Saint Joseph's has often been talked about over the last two seasons as the team that can't close out a game, the team can't make the clutch play late in a game.
There was a role reversal tonight at Hagan Arena.
Saint Joseph's (13-7, 4-3 Atlantic 10) was staring their largest deficit of the game in the face when Khalif Wyatt's sixth three-pointer of the night gave Temple (14-7, 3-4 A-10) a 61-52 lead with 5:39 left. The Hawks responded with an 18-8 run over the final 5:10 of the game to catapult themselves back into the thick of the Atlantic 10 race with a 70-69 win in front of a passionate crowd at Hagan Arena on Saturday night.
One of the main orchestrators of the Hawks late run was senior guard Carl Jones. Coming off of a game where he hit clutch free throws to seal their win against Fordham, the diminutive guard scored eight points during the late-game run, including consecutive three-pointers which began to bring the energy back into the 54th Airborne.
Saint Joseph's showed an energy on the offensive end that had disappeared for much of the second half down the stretch. C.J. Aiken was set up beautifully twice by Halil Kanacevic, the second time it resulted in an alley-oop lay-up where Aiken showed incredible body control as he laid the ball in to give Saint Joseph's a 68-66 lead with 25 seconds to play, the Hawks first lead in nearly nine and a half minutes.
Temple quickly moved down the other end of the court, but Wyatt missed from close range and Will Cummings missed a put-back attempt before Kanacevic corralled a rebound and was fouled.
Kanacevic was clutch from the free throw line, hitting four-of-four from the charity stripe in the final minute, this pair giving the Hawks a four-point advantage with 16 seconds left. However, Wyatt would not give in as he hit a three-pointer from 30-feet out to cut the Hawks lead to one with 10 seconds left.
Jones was fouled with 7.7 seconds left and went to the line for a one-and-one. Unlike on Wednesday against Fordham, Jones could not help seal the game for the Hawks as he missed on the front end of the bonus.
Wyatt raced down the court but his lay-up attempt was knocked out of bounds with just over a second to play. On the inbounds attempt, Wyatt's desperation heave was short, giving the Hawks their third consecutive victory.
It was a highly competitive game which featured 18 lead changes in what was the last regular season match-up between the two teams while Temple is a member of the Atlantic 10. The Owls are moving to the Big East next season.
The game featured a pronounced clash in styles, with Saint Joseph's pounding the post while Temple hoisted up a lot of three-point shots, 31 in fact, during the course of the contest. The Hawks outscored Temple 40-16 in the paint.
Ronald Roberts led the Hawks with 18 points and 12 rebounds. While the junior forward was not as involved in the action late, he was an absolute force over the course of the game on both ends of the floor.
Aiken had an efficient game for Saint Joseph's and finished with 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the field, while Jones also netted 16 points and Kanacevic had another solid all-around game contributing 12 points along with 9 rebounds and 8 assists in 32 minutes of action.
Besides Wyatt's career-high scoring effort in which he knocked down seven three-pointers, Temple's other double-digit scorer was Cummings with 11 points.
As Saint Joseph's entertains ideas of being an NCAA Tournament team seven weeks from now, it was clear that late game situations had been a weakness of this particular team. However, in two straight games the Hawks have made the big plays and runs down the stretch to secure much-needed victories.
The Hawks travel to struggling Dayton on Wednesday evening to try to keep the momentum alive at 7 p.m. in a game locally televised on The Comcast Network. Meanwhile Saint Joseph's fans have to think their beloved Hawks could be beginning to come of age.