Nick Robinson (above) has been forced into point guard duty for St. Joe's due to a pair of injuries. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Daniel Hughes (@dan1el_sun)
At the beginning of the season, nobody in or around Saint Joseph’s organization thought Nick Robinson would finish out the year as the Hawks’ starting point guard.
But things have not exactly gone as planned for St. Joe’s this year, and on Wednesday night at Hagan Arena, the 6-foot-6 freshman guard was seen bringing up the ball for St. Joe’s in their 83-77 loss to St. Bonaventure.
After a string of bad injuries, the Hawks (10-17, 3-12 Atlantic 10) have made Robinson their primary ball-handler. However, head coach Phil Martelli is hesitant to call him a point guard.
“I think that’s a misnomer,” Martelli said. “He’s announced as a point guard. He’s a guard. He’s in playing a position.”
Now that St. Joe’s is without a point guard, their season has come full circle.
Coming into the year, the Hawks had a very different problem at the point guard position. They had to find a way for junior returning leading scorer Shavar Newkirk and sophomore team tri-captain Lamarr Kimble to share the ball. The pair coexisted excellently until a December 30 game against George Washington, when Newkirk, who had been leading St. Joe’s with 20.3 points per game, went down with a torn ACL.
The injury bug struck again when Kimble broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot in a February 11 matchup against UMass. The 6-foot-tall Neumann-Goretti product was fourth in the nation with 37.4 minutes per game and had logged seven full games for St. Joe’s. His 15.3 points per game led all active players.
That left Robinson with some big shoes to fill. Not many freshman wing players have to take the reins of their team once the two leading scorers succumb to injury.
But Robinson is unfazed.
“I don’t feel like there’s any pressure,” Robinson says. “I just have to learn from the point guard position, and I feel like I’m learning more and more every day I go out there.”
A product of Kenwood Academy in Chicago, Ill., Robinson played point forward in high school. He is only a year removed from handling the ball on nearly every play, and claims he is “used to” bringing the ball up.
Behind Robinson, the Hawks pushed the ball early on against St. Bonaventure and snagged an eight point lead with just under 14 minutes left to play in the first.
“We wanted pace, because that way our skills don’t get exposed,” Martelli said. “We’ve worked on it the last two days (in practice). We’ve tried to play down the floor and we’re going to continue to do that the next two weeks.”
St. Joe’s struggled throughout the rest of the half, allowing the Bonnies to climb back and grab a 40-36 lead into the break. St. Bonaventure junior Matt Mobley scored 20 points in the first period alone.
In the second half, the Hawks righted themselves quickly. Sophomore Chris Clover converted on an and-one with just under 15 minutes to play to take the lead, 49-48. St. Joe’s continued to keep pace with the Bonnies with two highlight reel dunks from sophomore Markell Lodge. The 6-foot-7 forward from Washington N.C., finished with 10 points.
With nine minutes to go in the second half, Martelli disagreed with a charge called on senior Brendan Casper. Martelli was promptly given two technicals and then ejected. Mobley made all four free throws to put the Bonnies up 63-55. Without their head coach, the Hawks struggled and at one point fell behind by nine before making a late push.
Robinson made a 3 from the top of the key with 26.1 seconds left to cut the lead to 78-75. However, Mobley’s concentration was good enough for him to make five more free throws and ice the game in spite of deafening jeers from the agitated Crimson and Gray faithful.
Mobley was excellent throughout for St. Bonaventure. He finished with 31 points on 7-for-13 (53.8 percent) shooting from the field. He was nearly perfect from the foul line, shooting 13-for-14, missing only his last attempt with 0.5 seconds left when the game was already decided.
Robinson ended up with seven points on three-for-five shooting from the field in 31 minutes. Junior James Demery led the Hawks with 21 points, shooting 6-for-11 from the field.
It is the Hawks’ second loss to St. Bonaventure this year. In the first matchup on January 24, the Bonnies prevailed 67-63 on a 19-point performance from junior guard Jaylen Adams.
St. Joe’s will look forward to their next game at Saint Louis (9-18, 4-10 A-10). With only three games remaining on the schedule, Robinson will not have to play point guard for much longer.
The Hawks may struggle, but Robinson will get invaluable experience and playing time. Besides, Martelli believes a little adversity might be good for the freshman.
“He doesn’t need confidence, he actually needs the other thing,” Martelli said. “He needs to be knocked down and become less confident.”