Creighton will square off Saturday night against a basketball team on a mission.
St. Joseph's is coming off two solid seasons, winning 38 games and advancing to the National Invitation Tournament both years. But this group, Hawks coach Phil Martelli said, wants more.
The team's five seniors — especially starters Ronald Roberts, Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic — are intent on leaving a mark.
“These guys have put themselves in position to play in some memorable games the last couple of years,” Martelli said by phone from Philadelphia. “But they have a sense of purpose. They want to do something special for a program that has been special for a long time.”
In 19 seasons under Martelli, St. Joseph's has won 341 games, including 30 during the 2003-04 season when the Hawks reached the Elite Eight of the NCAA tournament. They've played in the NCAA tournament four other times, making a Sweet 16 appearance in 1997.
It's been five seasons, though, since St. Joseph's last NCAA trip. This group is intent on making sure that string doesn't grow to six. Martelli is equally intent on making sure the players don't get ahead of themselves.
“We have to go back to that idea of being better today than we were yesterday and keep building on that to see where we are in March,” he said. “At this point, playing with a sense of urgency could be a deterrent.
“Urgency could tighten you up if you get behind in a game, and all of a sudden guys are thinking they have to hit a grand slam instead of a single.”
St. Joseph's has opened this season with two victories, posting a clutch road win at Vermont to open the season and then knocking off Marist in Wednesday's home opener. Now the Hawks must ratchet up their game with Creighton — and two-time All-American Doug McDermott — coming to town for a 6 p.m. tip at Hagan Arena.
Of course, McDermott could be playing elsewhere had he decided last spring to turn professional. Martelli applauds McDermott's decision to return for his senior season.
“Guys like Doug McDermott is what college basketball is all about at our levels,” Martelli said.
Creighton's last trip to Hagan didn't end well for McDermott and his teammates. The Bluejays had won their first seven games before getting humbled by the Hawks on Dec. 10, 2011. St. Joseph's scored an 80-71 win, getting a big game from guard Carl Jones.
He scored 29 points, but Galloway and Roberts played strong supporting roles. Galloway, who ranks third on St. Joseph's 3-point career chart with 241, scored 12 points. So did Roberts, and the 6-foot-8 forward chipped in six rebounds and three blocked shots.
Galloway has opened this season by scoring 21 points against Vermont and 20 against Marist. That has pushed his career scoring total to 1,430 points. Roberts also is closing in on the 1,000-point milestone. He needs 26 points after scoring 16 and grabbing 10 rebounds against Marist.
Kanacevic also has a chance to end his career with 1,000 points as he enters the Creighton game with 799. The 6-8 forward almost had a triple-double against Marist, scoring 12 points, grabbing 11 rebounds and finishing with eight assists.
St. Joseph's has two other seniors in backup forward Daryus Quarles and walk-on Colin Kelly, but Martelli said it's Galloway, Kanacevic and Roberts who provide direction.
“Halil is the most vocal guy we have, and he's also the most supportive of his teammates,” Martelli said. “If I get on one of his teammates, he'll try to bail the guy out and tell me he saw something different than what I thought I saw.”
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Video: Creighton's Jahenns Manigat previews Saturday's game:
Video: Creighton coach Greg McDermott previews Saturday's game:
Video: Creighton's Grant Gibbs previews Saturday's game: