The University of St. Joseph in West Hartford, Connecticut, made a memorable entrance to Division III men's basketball. The coaching debut of Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun saw his Blue Jays rally from 14 down behind 25 points off the bench from freshman Ryan O'Neill to defeat William Paterson 79-74.
Calhoun, who was originally hired as a consultant to the program, which was adding men's sports for the first time, became the head coach. Calhoun, age 76, retired from the University of Connecticut six years ago.
Nearly 2,000 fans sold out the of Ray Oosting Gymnausium at Trinity College in Hartford. Dozens more had to be turned back. The environment was electric in 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 WP.
With energy on both ends from freshman guard Chris Childs, the Blue Jays settled in by midway through the first half, when Childs picked up his second foul.
WP made its run as soon as Childs stepped off the floor. A barrage of 3-pointers from junior forward Sean Smith, and hard drives to the rim by sophomore guard Domenic Mignone capped a 21-6 run to end the half. Calhoun, arguing with officials, received a technical foul in the process with 4:17 left before the break.
|Ryan O'Neill came off the bench to shoot 7-for-9, and 9-for-10 from the line for a game-high 25 points.
St. Joseph athletics photo
Down 41-30 at the half, Calhoun and the Blue Jays went to work. Three-pointers by 6-9 sophomore forward Mike Sagay 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 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 made one of two free throws to go up four. A key steal and second free throw by O'Neill sealed the deal. Sagay finished one rebound shy of a double-double (13 points, nine rebounds), while freshman guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. pitched in offensively with 15 points and four assists. The Pioneers were led by Smith, who scored 20 points on 6-for-12 shooting from 3-point range and added six assists, while Mignone scored 12 of his 19 points in the first half.
The first-year program features 19 players -- 17 freshmen and two sophomores.