By Matt Leon

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The St. Joseph’s University Hawks will play their Big 5 opener on Saturday as they host rival Villanova at Hagan Arena.

The Hawks are 4-3 on the young season and coming off an 83-70 win over Bucknell on Hawk Hill on Wednesday night.

“[Playing a team from ] the Patriot League, you think there’s going to be a certain style of play but Bucknell I think shatters that because they play so quickly, score so easily,” St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli tells KYW Newsradio. “We were able to hold the young man [forward Zach] Thomas, who had 38 against Stony Brook on Saturday, to 3 for 15 from the field. So we got a lot of contributions across the board and feel good. Now we look forward to challenging, not only a great team, but an unbelievable program and culture that Jay Wright has established at Villanova.”

 

The Hawks have been hit hard by injuries this season. Guard Lamarr Kimble is out for the season while forward Charlie Brown has yet to play a game. But they also have gotten great play out of true freshman Taylor Funk who has stepped up early on, averaging 14.9 ppg off the bench while shooting 49% from 3. Martelli talks about Funk making such an immediate impact.

st. joe's

Freshman forward Taylor Funk is averaging 14.9 points a gem this season off the bench for St. Joe’s. (Credit – Sideline Photos)

“I knew he was a basketball player,” Martelli says. “I was convinced that he could help us. I wanted him in this program. I recruited him very aggressively to be a freshman academically, be a freshman socially, but to be a player, basketball-wise. That’s what he’s been. He’s easy to coach, he wants to make the corrections. We’re really going to work hard on his defensive footwork, but also his posture defensively. But I did anticipate that he would be able to make shots at the collegiate level early in his career.”

The St. Joe’s/Villanova rivalry is one of the most intense, not just in the city, but in all of college basketball. The Wildcats come into Saturday’s game 7-0 and fresh off a 90-62 Big 5 win over Penn on Wednesday. Martelli talks about the first thing that jumps out at him about this Villanova team.

“Their absolute competitive instinct across the board,” he says. “The number one thing for us is going to be, we need to get 50% of the 50-50 balls that are in this game. They get every ball, they get every ball. They’ve been able to do that for years. They demand a mindset defensively that they’re going to be impossible to score on. It’s a pleasure to watch and actually it’s a joy to prepare for because it’s not going to be any better, we’re not going to play anybody this year that will have a better culture, a better chemistry.”

Last year, Villanova beat St. Joe’s 88-57 at the Pavilion.

Saturday’s game tips off at 5:30pm.

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