Jim Calhoun’s University of Saint Joseph men’s basketball team played its first NCAA Division III Tournament game Friday, 16 months after the Blue Jays had their first game.
After the team lost to Hobart College (Geneva, New York) in Springfield, Massachusetts, Calhoun sat with two of his players in the basement of Blake Arena to talk to reporters. The coach said he thought as highly of the group he’s got now as any other team he’s helmed in his storied career.
“They don’t know how much they did so quickly and made everybody at Saint Joe’s incredibly happy and proud -- you saw them come out here tonight for us -- and made me, a guy who’s done this for 50 years as proud of this team as any team I’ve had at UConn or Northeastern,” Calhoun said.
“I love these guys.”
For about 80 years, the University of Saint Joseph was an all-girls school. The university brought Calhoun on as it began admitting men. In their inaugural 2018-19 season, the Blue Jays fell a game short of the NCAA Division III Tournament.
But in year two, the team got in by winning its conference, setting up the first national tournament game for the University of Saint Joseph on Friday against the Hobart College Statesmen.
Hobart took a nine-point lead at the end of the first half, thanks to an 18-5 run. From there, the closest Saint Joe’s would get was a two-point deficit with 80 seconds left in the game. Hobart won 78-74.
Junior Jordan Powell scored 15 points for the Blue Jays. After the game, it was clear that Powell, who transferred to the West Hartford school before the season, didn’t regret his decision. He said he even passed up offers from NCAA Division II schools to play for “maybe the best coach ever.”
“I’m just happy and I’m just blessed to be here,” Powell said. “I’m ready for next year -- I’m ready to spend my last year in college here with these guys.”
Reflecting on the loss, Calhoun stressed that the team had already done plenty in a short period, winning 42 games in two years, including 25 in a row heading into Friday’s game with Hobart. He thinks the Blue Jays will only get better.
“We weren’t as good down the stretch as we should’ve been tonight,” Calhoun said.
“We use so much emotional energy to get there sometimes. But we’re really good and we can be really, really good going forward.”
Calhoun has coached college basketball players since 1972. He’s won three national championships -- all at the University of Connecticut, from which he retired in 2012. This year’s trip to the NCAA Division III Tournament with Saint Joseph’s marked his 24th appearance as a coach in an NCAA men’s basketball tournament. It doesn’t appear that Calhoun, 77, will call it a career just yet.
He told the Hartford Courant when he was hired to coach the team in 2018 that he asked for at least two years. Now, two years later, Calhoun said he’s open to coaching another year if the school will have him back -- and if his wife, Pat, will let him.