When St. Joseph's forward Halil Kanacevic sank a tie-breaking 3-pointer midway through the second half on Tuesday night, he celebrated with both middle fingers raised in the direction of the Villanova student section.
It was an immature gesture by Kanacevic under any circumstances. It looks more foolish in retrospect since he turned out to be the game's biggest scapegoat.
Showered in boos and catcalls every time he touched the ball during the final 10 minutes, Kanacevic did not score the rest of the game. Not only was the 3-pointer the only field goal Kanacevic tallied against Villanova, he also made several critical mistakes in the final two minutes that enabled the Wildcats to escape with a 65-61 victory.
He fouled James Bell 25 feet from the basket, enabling the Villanova guard to sink two foul shots with two minutes to go and close the Wildcats' gap to three. He turned the ball over on the ensuing possession attempting to throw a backdoor pass into a very tight window. And later he shot free throws facing the Villanova student section and had a pair rim out harmlessly with 45.8 seconds to go and Saint Joseph's leading by one.
The most nightmarish moment for Kanacevic came a possession later when Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli had Kanacevic inbound the ball from the deep right corner with three seconds to play and the Hawks trailing by two.
Nobody was open and a five-second call was approaching, so Kanacevic attempted to throw the ball off Villanova's Mo Sutton. The ball caromed first off Sutton, then Kanacevic, a costly turnover that extinguished Saint Joseph's last chance to leave with a victory over its city rival.
It was a bit surprising Martelli let Kanacevic play instead of sitting him because of his obscene gesture, but the Saint Joseph's coach told reporters during his postgame news conference that he hadn't seen the incident. He did notice, however, the crowd noise from Villanova fans increased from that point on.
"One of the things that we will mention to them is that on the road you play to silence," Martelli told CSN Philadelphia. "That's all you want. It certainly wasn't a raucous atmosphere up until that point."
It will be interesting to see if Martelli opts to discipline Kanacevic now that he has surely seen photographs or replays of the incident.
Perhaps Martelli will suspend Kanacevic for the team's next two games against Fairfield and Iona later this month the way New Mexico State did when one of its guards made an obscene gesture during a game with UTEP two years ago. Or maybe Martelli will let Kanacevic get away with just a tongue-lashing this time since a poor performance in a crucial rivalry game is probably punishment enough.