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Villanova wins the Holy War, but St. Joe’s is still blowing close games

Dec 11, 2012, 9:53 PM EDT

Daniel Ochefu, Halil Kanacevic AP

The talent is there for St. Joseph’s to be as good as they want to be.

It was there last year as well, but the Hawks, for whatever reason, took home too many moral victories a year ago. What’s that mean? Well, it’s a nice way of saying that they were really good at being competitive and not so good at closing out games in which they had a late lead. The Hawks lost 14 games a year ago, and in 11 of them, they held a second half lead.

The thinking was that this year would be different. This is now an experienced, veteran team, as they returned everyone from last year’s 20-win campaign.

That’s why Tuesday’s 65-61 loss to Villanova is so disheartening.

Let’s ignore, for a second, that the Wildcats are St. Joe’s biggest rival and a fellow member of the Big 5. (This game is called the Holy War, after all.)

The Hawks had this game all but won. After Langston Galloway had hit his sixth three of the game with 2:16 remaining, St. Joe’s was up 61-56. But after two James Bell free throws, Halil Kanacevic turned the ball over. That led to a layup from Daniel Ochefu at the other end of the floor. On the ensuing possession, Kanacevic missed two free throws, which meant that when the Hawks lost track of Bell defensively, his three ball with 34 seconds left gave Villanova a 63-61 lead.

And that’s when things got really bad.

St. Joe’s called a timeout with 26 seconds left, but when they couldn’t get a shot off of the set that Martelli drew up in the timeout, they were forced to call another time out — their last of the game — with 11 seconds on the clock. That play resulted in Carl Jones running off of a high-ball screen from Galloway and kicking the ball out to 6-foot-9 CJ Aiken, who is a wanna-be jump-shooter that cannot dribble the ball. He got trapped, Jones came over to save him, and eventually the Hawks got lucky when the ball happened to go out of bounds off of Villanova with 3.5 seconds left.

On the ensuing inbounds, the Hawks were unable to get the ball in and Kanacevic was forced to try and bounce the ball off of the Villanova defender, which didn’t go well; it bounced off of him before going out of bounds.

Villanova ball.

And after two James Bell free throws, game over.

These are the games that St. Joe’s was supposed to be able to win this season.

If they want a real chance at winning the Atlantic 10 this season — which is as tough, deep and balanced as it has been in a long time — this needs to be a turning point. Every game in league play is going to be close. They cannot afford to salt away wins.

(As an aside, if you make the decision to flip a double-bird at the crowd on the road while playing in a game on national television, you probably shouldn’t choke away the game down the stretch. If anyone reading this PSA knows Halil Kanacevic, please pass this message along. Thank you.)

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.