HARTFORD, Conn. – A storybook ending for Saint Joe's Head Men's Basketball Coach Jim Calhoun in his return to college basketball, as the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team came back from 14 down to win in their first-ever collegiate basketball game.
The rally towels said "#WinTheDay", and the Blue Jays (1-0) made good on their promise, outlasting the William Paterson University (WPU) Pioneers (0-1) 79-74. It's thanks in big part to freshman guard Ryan O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.), who led the way with a game-high 25 points off the bench, 19 coming in the second half.
Nearly 2,000 fans sold out the high-banked bleachers of Ray Oosting Gymnasium at Trinity College in Hartford. The environment was electric in USJ's and Jim Calhoun's debut, but the play on the floor early was anything but.
USJ trailed minutes in, 9-3, after some missed defensive assignments and second-chance points for WPU.
With energy on both ends from freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.), the Blue Jays settled in by midway through the first half, but that's when Childs picked up his second foul and had to head to the bench.
WPU made their run as soon as Childs stepped off the floor. A barrage of threes from junior forward Sean Smith (Moraga, Calif.), and hard drives to the rim by sophomore guard Domenic Mignone (Rutherford, N.J.) capped a 21-6 run to end the half. Calhoun, arguing with officials, received his first technical foul in the process with 4:18 left before the break.
Down 41-30 at the half, Calhoun and the Blue Jays went to work in the second stanza to start the comeback. Three-pointers by 6'9 sophomore forward Mike Sagay (Bloomfield, Conn.) ended the first half and started the second. It seemed to rally the crowd as the energy in the building intensified.
Sagay followed it with two monster dunks on the break, igniting a 23-2 run to take the lead 50-43 with 15:03 to go.
"Early, they found out we weren't ready to play," said USJ Head Coach Jim Calhoun. "I know we made baskets, I know we made some stops...but what we did was we competed. We hadn't done that as well in the first half."
USJ maintained every threat the Pioneers threw at them, managing the gap until the final minute, leading 75-72.
A loose ball foul call benefited the Blue Jays as freshman forward Nadir Dixon-Thompson (Dorchester, Mass.) made 1-of-2 free throws to go up four. A key steal and second free throw by O'Neill sealed the deal, 79-74.
Sagay finished one rebound shy of a double-double (13 pts, 9 Reb), while freshman guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) pitched in offensively with 15 points and four assists. The Pioneers were led by Smith (20 pts, 6-12 3FG, 6 Asts) and Mignone, who scored 12 of his 19 points in the first half.
USJ will make their official home debut this Sunday, November 11 vs. Medgar Evers at 1:00 pm inside the O'Connell Athletic Center on the campus of USJ.