‘Holy War’ resumes tonight as Villanova takes on St. Joe’s

Daniel Madden

The St. Joseph’s University men’s basketball team spent time at the Maui Invitational over Thanksgiving, and despite only one win in three games, Head Coach Phil Martelli was pleased. Their two losses came at the hands of Alabama and nationally ranked Texas.

A 3-3 Hawks team hopes to regain last season’s late surge, which propelled it into the NCAA tournament. But the loss of a few key starters, including Pat Calathes, may set the team back early on. It went 21-13 last season (9-7 A-10) and lost in the first round of the tournament.

The Hawks do have the firepower to contend as a bubble team, with senior forward Ahmad Nivins returning. It is simply a matter of getting the less experienced up-to-speed and making up for the loss of Calathes’ scoring and rebounding. But St. Joe’s must not rely on late-season surges come March when tough tests lay ahead.

Tonight they clash with No. 15 Villanova in what is considered the most intense of all the Big 5 games. The Wildcats have won nine of the last 13 games and lead the ‘Holy War’ series 41-27, but St. Joe’s controlled last year’s game to win 77-55.


Nivins is a big-time scorer with great versatility both inside and outside, though his true strength resides near the basket. Though Nivins dominates down low, the team will rely on the backcourt to win games.

Senior Tasheed Carr and junior Darrin Govens both provide experience and overall steadiness as guards. They both average double figures in scoring, with 12.3 and 14.0, respectively. The Hawks will look for Carr to run the offense and involve the less-experienced players to help out Nivins. Govens’ scoring average is second to Nivins’, and he is expected to continue to put up quality numbers.

Junior guard Garrett Williamson, the sixth man last year, plays 29.9 minutes per game and is an all-around solid player. While not a great scoring threat, he helps out in rebounding as a bigger guard and also plays great team basketball.

Martelli is in his 14th year at St. Joe’s (261-152) and recently signed a contract extension. He always gets the most out of his players. With Martelli as head coach, the Hawks are always a threat.


After the five starters, no player averages more than 13.7 minutes per game, and from those players, no one averages more than 3.6 points. The Hawks’ weak bench forces the starters to play more minutes, which will hurt the team if the game is close.

Nivins is also St. Joe’s only quality forward, making it tough to keep up with bigger opponents. Though Nivins and sophomore forward Idris Hilliard roughly match up with Villanova’s forwards in height, they will struggle to match their skill. Hilliard played merely 5.7 minutes per game as a freshman, but now plays 24.7 minutes, trying to fill in for Calathes and Rob Ferguson, who also graduated. Hilliard fails to provide any real presence inside, and to be effective, he must create space for Nivins to work.

Who to Watch

Nivins is off to another good start, as he is averaging 18.3 points per contest. He plays nearly the entire game and is the go-to guy with Calathes gone. He is shooting 67.7 percent from the field in his quest to become only the second player in Atlantic 10 history to lead the conference in field goal shooting for three-straight seasons. George Washington’s Alexander Koul (1994-1997) is the only player who has accomplished this feat. He entered this season shooting 63.4 percent for his career, the best in school history.

Nivins dominance around the basket also shows in his other statistics. His 11.7 rebounds per game this season blow away his teammates’ averages. Nivins also shoots free throws at 80 percent and blocks 2.7 shots per game.

Matchup to Watch

Freshman forward Bryant Irwin might match up with Villanova’s senior forward Shane Clark if in the game together. While both are support players coming off the bench, their contributions on the court will be pivotal. Bryant averages 3.0 points per game, while Clark, playing a few more minutes (17.1 compared to Bryant’s 14.2), averages 5.7 points.

With Nivins clashing with Villanova’s forwards and Carr and Govens matched up with Villanova’s junior Scottie Reynolds and sophomore Corey Fisher, the difference could come from the bench. Both players also help out on the boards and play solid basketball.


While Nivins is one of the premier players in the Big 5, Villanova’s athletic ability, superior depth and experience should prove too much for the Hawks. Although St. Joseph’s was victorious in last year’s matchup, they lost one too many key games and graduated players this season. With Villanova returning all of last year’s starters, the edge will go to the ‘Cats.

If Cunningham continues being a force on the low-post, expect open jumpers. Stokes should continue to play well and with Reynolds starting to find his stroke, Villanova should be victorious. Although Villanova is the stronger team, do not look for the Hawks to roll over.

Villanova 75, St. Joseph’s 67