GORHAM — Rob Sanicola thinks he has a pretty good thing going, if early season atmosphere and camaraderie count for anything.
Sanicola knows it’s early and just about every team is still ripe with unbridled optimism.
But as the veteran coach of the St. Joseph’s men’s basketball team reflects on his previous nine seasons, he believes this year’s edition has already shown a quality that’s difficult to teach.
“This is the closest group of players this early in the season that I’ve had in my 10 years,” said Sanicola after St. Joe’s topped University of Southern Maine 70-56 in a non-conference men’s college basketball game played Sunday afternoon at USM’s Hill Gymnasium.
“They’ve been very close since day one, and as a coach that’s the most important thing but it’s also the hardest thing to have early on.”
The victory helped the Monks improve to 2-0 on the young season and marked their fifth straight in Costello Cup competition. The Huskies, playing in their home opener, suffered their first loss to drop to 3-1.
The game was certainly not a thing of beauty early on. Neither team was particularly sharp in the shooting department in the opening half.
The Monks went 14 for 39 from the field in the first 20 minutes while USM was an abysmal 11 for 37.
St. Joe’s used a 10-0 run in the early stages of the game to surge into a 14-8 lead. The Huskies followed the five-minute scoreless stretch by netting seven of the next eight points to even the count at 15-15.
“We came out maybe a little over-hyped and a little anxious,” said Nich Jobin, a Westbrook grad who had 13 points for the Monks.
“We were putting up shots that were good shots, it’s just we weren’t necessarily looking inside first. We were playing outside in toward the start of the game instead of inside out.”
A three-pointer by Craig Luschenat broke the tie and restored the Monks advantage, one that they would never relinquish.
St. Joe’s put together another solid defensive stretch in the latter stages of the opening half — aided by USM’s collective inability to hit shots — as they held the Huskies scoreless for four minutes and stretched the lead to 27-19.
“We just didn’t make shots,” said USM coach Karl Henrikson. “I credit their defense for a lot of that.
“And I think sometimes when you don’t score it affects your defense at the other end. I think that in a nutshell was the case. St. Joe’s is not the type of team — they’re very disciplined — that is not going to shoot you back into a game with bad shots.”
St. Joe’s led 30-24 at the half.
The Huskies kept the game within six points through the first six minutes of the second half.
St. Joe’s cemented its advantage with a 9-2 run — featuring a three-pointer by Matthew Medeiros — to move ahead 50-37 with 12 minutes left.
Steve Simonds paced the Monks with 15 points while Medeiros finished with 12.
Conor Sullivan paced the Huskies with a game-high 18.