Dave Mallon has never scored at Saint Joseph's like he did in high school at East Aurora, but his career has hardly been a waste. There have been two trips to the NCAA Tournament, including the magical run to the 2004 Elite Eight, a berth in last year's NIT championship and perhaps another postseason spot this year.
And the 6-foot-10 Mallon has carved out a key role for the Hawks this year as a defensive stopper against opponents' key big men. Charlotte's Curtis Withers (5 for 11 from the field), La Salle's Steven Smith (4 of 14) and Saint Louis' Ian Vouyoukas (one shot in 30 minutes) have all struggled to score in recent games against Mallon.
"I'll make them shoot over me as much as I can. I've got long arms and I want guys to have to shoot over an 8 1/2 -foot target."
Hawks coach Phil Martelli quickly figured out that Mallon was never going to match the offensive output of former power forward Bill Phillips but is thrilled with the way he's contributed defensively.
"Dave has just had a three-game stretch that was astounding," Martelli said. "He's a linchpin for us. He talks on every defensive play and always knows where he should be. You don't have to wonder with him. When we played a freshman in that spot [6-9 Ahmad Nivins], we had to wonder.
"He's been in so many big games and helped us win and people still say 'what did he do?' But he held their leading scorer to one shot at Saint Louis. He does things that make you win beyond scoring points."
Mallon is averaging career highs of 3.9 points and 2.7 rebounds this year, and made his sixth straight start in Wednesday's 77-69 loss at Dayton. But he left that game with an ankle sprain after five minutes and his status for today's game against St. Bonaventure is doubtful. In the previous four games with Mallon in the starting lineup, no opponent had cracked 60 points.
Saint Joseph's enters today's game 9-9 overall and 3-5 in the Atlantic 10. It's been a bizarre season for the Hawks, who have twice lost (at Davidson and Gonzaga) when scoring 94 points, then won games last week over Saint Louis and Penn while combining to score just 101.
"We got into the mind-set we would outscore teams and that's not the kind of team we are," Mallon said. "We have to build offense from our defense."
That's the way the great Saint Joseph's team of two years ago made its living in going 30-2. Mallon has fond memories of that NCAA run, which began with victories over Liberty and Texas Tech in HSBC Arena. In the second-round game, it was Mallon's three-pointer that kick-started the Hawks' 24-2 run.
"We've seen more in our four years than people could see in their lifetime," he said. "I could never imagine that could happen. I was looking at pictures the other day of the people in Buffalo supporting St. Joe's. It was such a dream. It still seems like a fairy tale. It was great to have support. It was like our homecourt."
Mallon is hoping for one more postseason run this year then perhaps some time on the floor next year in Europe. He's a class ahead of schedule to graduate in May with a marketing degree.
"I really want to keep playing," he said. "I'm not ready for a real job yet. This has been an amazing time for me."
"I really enjoy it," Mallon said this week by phone. "I was nervous about it when we played Charlotte but I talked with Jay Williams (the former Duke star who is now a broadcaster) and he said, 'All the pressure is on them to perform. You go do what you can.' I got confidence from going against Withers and I feel like I've been in the zone with defense right now.
Big MAC showdown
We'll get a good handle on who the favorite is to win the Mid-American Conference when Kent plays today at Akron (2 p.m., Adelphia 13). Both teams are 9-1 in league play and Akron thinks this is the year it can take over the mantle that Kent has held for several years.
"Everyone around this area thinks they're better and they do too," Akron forward Romeo Travis said Wednesday after the Zips disposed of the University at Buffalo, 75-61. "They think they're a much better program, better overall school everything. Well, it's not that way anymore. Akron is coming up as a school and a program. We've felt kind of like a stepchild to Kent."
Told of his players' feelings, Zips coach Keith Dambrot tried to defuse the trash talking. Said Dambrot: "I don't care if it's Kent State or Our Lady of the Elms. I just want to win. I don't see Kent State-Akron. I don't take it personally."
Zebras on the loose
Officiating continues to be brutal in the MAC. Wednesday's UB-Akron game featured 51 fouls and calls often left both coaches baffled. UB boss Reggie Witherspoon astutely kept saying "Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday" after that game, pointed out the best officials work the MAC on those days while Wednesday and Saturday games are usually worked by bottom feeders.
"I feel bad for the paying customers," said Witherspoon, who was careful never to say the word "officials." "We have a rotation as a team that when we get outside that rotation, we struggle. If we could only play guys that were ready, we'll play better. It's Tuesday-Thursday-Sunday, OK? I'm choosing my words carefully but everybody was here."
Miami (Ohio) coach Charlie Coles, whose team is at Alumni Arena tonight, has been wowed by the MAC-leading assist-turnover ratio of Akron guard Dru Joyce. Cracked Coles: "I guarantee you he is not listening to rap music before a ballgame. Rap music and turnovers go together."