VILLANOVA, Pa. - Halil Kanacevic is a college player who has never feared consequences. He does not do politically correct. In an era of sporting clichis, he answers questions with rare candor. Ask him a hard question and he will tell you the truth.
The truth Tuesday night at the Pavilion was that Kanacevic offended the basketball gods. And he paid for it.
With just under 10 minutes left in the Saint Joseph’s-Villanova game, Kanacevic made a three-pointer from the top of the key to give his team a three-point lead. As he backed down the court facing the Villanova students, he raised three fingers in the air. Then, he lowered two of them.
The ‘Nova student section had been fairly sedate. So had most of their fans. That changed instantly.
“On the road, we tell them to play to silence,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “It certainly wasn’t a raucous atmosphere up to that point. I didn’t think it made us play out of character, but we made some out-of-character plays.”
Kanacevic grew up on Staten Island. He led Curtis High to Staten Island’s first PSAL title in 2009. That team won 28 games. He blocked 19 shots in an opening-round playoff game. Playing his second season at SJU after transferring from Hofstra, Kanacevic does a bit of everything on the court - passes, rebounds, defends, scores. This night, he did too much.
Villanova coach Jay Wright was not sure what had happened when the gesture was made as he had just called a timeout.
“I missed the whole thing,” Wright said. “I knew something had happened. The ref said they could do nothing about it.”
Earlier in the second half, Kanacevic said something to the Villanova crowd he probably did not need to say. Referee Ed Corbett pulled him aside at the foul line and tried to calm him down.
“The ref came to him at the foul line and said, ‘Don’t let the crowd get to you,’ “ Villanova’s James Bell said.
The crowd got to him. Villanova got to St. Joe’s.
The Hawks looked like they had the game after Langston Galloway (game-high 22 points) hit his sixth three-pointer with just over two minutes left to give SJU a five-point lead.
The Wildcats had scored on more than two consecutive possessions just once all game, right at the end of the first half when they scored on three. If the Hawks had just played sound defense, it was going to be a hard game to lose.
Kanacevic fouled Bell 25 feet from the basket. Bell calmly made a pair. Kanacevic threw a backdoor pass to Galloway into a very tight window. Bell stole it. After a Daniel Ochefu follow basket, Kanacevic was fouled with 45.8 seconds left. Shooting into that student section, now completely crazed, he missed a pair.
Bell hit a three from the left corner. After an ugly SJU possession, the Hawks ended up with the ball on the sideline in the deep right corner with three seconds left, trailing by two points, without a timeout. Nobody was open. Kanacevic, fearful of a five-second call, threw it off Mo Sutton. The ball caromed over the sideline, hitting Kanacevic. Turnover. Bell two free throws. Game over.
Villanova scored on its final four possessions and won it, 65-61. Kanacevic had two minutes he won’t forget. But when he was asked questions in a morose locker room, he was analytical.
“Turnovers (18) and too many offensive rebounds (15), coach said it,” he said. “Too many mistakes.”
Kanacevic made basketball mistakes and a human mistake. It is an emotional game and he let his emotions override good sense. He is a college student.
He did not talk about the gesture. The foul, the missed free throws and the turnovers were painful enough. He talked about all of that and spoke the truth.
“Completely my fault, should have made the free throws,” he said.
The final turnover?
“The ref said it hit me,” Kanacevic said. “I thought it hit out of bounds, but I didn’t have a good look at it. Can’t do anything about it.”
Kanacevic and his teammates will now have to think about this game during final exams. SJU does not play again until Dec. 22.
“When you lose and we make the mistakes, it’s going to bother you,” Kanacevic said.
The loss will stay with him for a while.
“I don’t think you should get over it,” he said. “You should always remember this type of game for the next game. You want to remember what you did wrong.”
Kanacevic’s Staten Island home is on high ground, so Hurricane Sandy did not get there. But it hit down the block, wiping out neighbors. So he has been close to real tragedy. This was just a basketball game where the gods were offended. They will get over it and so will Halil Kanacevic.