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St. Joe's guards lead the way into Atlantic 10 second round

03/07/2023, 10:30pm EST
By Jared Leveson

Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)

BROOKLYN, N.Y. — Saint Joseph’s has produced some excellent guards over the years. Jameer Nelson, Delonte West, and Langston Galloway to name a few. 

Senior Cameron Brown, sophomore Lynn Greer III, and freshman Christian Winborne lived up to the Hawks’ legacy Tuesday afternoon at the Barclays Centerin the opening round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. 

“It starts with guards,” fourth year head coach Billy Lange said. “Hawk Hill is a place that has a tradition of amazing guards. We’ve elevated these guys to believe that they can be just like those guys.

“I thought (the guards) did a wonderful job on both ends of the floor.”

Christian Winborne (above) had 16 points as St. Joe's advanced in the Atlantic 10 tournament. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

With the three guards combining for 54 points, St. Joe’s — the No. 10 seed in the A-10 tournament — did enough to get past No. 15 Loyola (Chicago), picking up a 72-67 win to advance to Wednesday’s second round. 

Brown finished strong after a tough start, totaling 16 points, six rebounds, one steal, and one block. Greer III carried the load with Brown struggling in the first half and scored 12 of his 22 points in the opening 20 minutes; Winborne finished with 16 points, one assist, and two steals.

“I’m not easy to impress,”  Lange said, “but that was impressive for us to do it in a way we had to do it with the injuries that we’ve sustained here.” 

St. Joe’s takes on No. 7 George Washington on Wednesday evening with hopes of advancing to their first quarterfinal appearance since 2018-2019, when they were the No. 10 seed and lost to Davidson. Things won’t get any easier for Lange’s squad tomorrow against the Colonials, who split their season series with the Hawks. 

The Hawks (15-16, 8-10) tied for eighth place in the A-10 this year, their best finish in Lange’s four seasons on Hawk Hill, but received the tournament’s 10th seed because of tiebreakers with No. 8 Davidson and No. 9 St. Bonaventure. Their best stretch came during a run of seven wins in nine games between Jan. 14 and Feb. 11, but then lost four straight before picking up a win in their season finale over Richmond.

St. Joe’s didn’t have a terrific night shooting the ball, going 22-of-53 (41.5%) from the field and 10-of-30 (33.3%) from three, right around their season averages. But Greer III’s excellent individual shooting (7-11 FG, 4-4 3PT) night helped the Hawks a bunch, and he grabbed 10 rebounds and chipped in seven assists to approach a triple-double.

“We really pride ourselves on our shooting,” Greer III said. “We work on shooting a lot. If teams are going to leave us open, we’re definitely going to let it fly. I don’t advise them to do too much of that anymore.” 

While Greer III’s scoring didn’t stop after halftime, by which point St. Joe’s led 33-27, it was his playmaking that stood out in the second half to help preserve St. Joe’s advantage. He moved away from his 3-point shot and got other teammates involved. 

The Philadelphia native collected four of his seven assists in the second half, including two huge assists down the stretch. The first was a bounce pass off a drive to Brown off a backdoor cut with 7:49 remaining in the second half that extended St. Joe’s lead to 59-50. 

The Ramblers responded and got big buckets from Phillip Alston (18 points) and Braden Norris (13 points), shrinking St. Joe’s lead to 68-68 with 1:02 remaining, but the Hawks had an answer.

Lynn Greer III (above) was 4-of-4 from the 3-point arc in Tuesday's win. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

With 35 seconds left during the following possession Greer III notched another dime, driving baseline and found a cutting Winborne when the Rambler defense collapsed to the ball, the layup giving St. Joe’s a 70-66 lead.

After Loyola connected on one of two foul shots with 26 seconds left, Winborne iced the game at the free throw line six seconds later. 

The freshman’s layup and free throws was a fitting end for his play in St. Joe’s opening round victory. Winborne did everything asked of him when thrusted into the game because leading scorer Erik Reynolds II (13 points, 4 assists) got into some early foul trouble.

The Baltimore, Md. native more than doubled his 6.1 points per game average by being aggressive with the ball. The freshman got fouled often and embraced the pressure-laden free throws, going 8-of-9 from the charity stripe. 

“I would just say Chrisitan is a dog,” Greer III said. “He will do whatever it takes to win. Christian is a great player and this is normal to us. We see that everyday in practice. It’s nothing new.” 

“Christian,” Reynolds II added. “You're never going to question his effort at all. You know he’s going to bring it every single time. We knew he always had this in him.” 

Lange was especially proud of how Winborne performed at the line because it’s been a point of emphasis for the freshman all season; he entered Tuesday night shooting 62.7% from the line (47-of-75), but made it count when it needed.

“I can’t tell you how much work we’ve done since he’s gotten here on adjusting his free throw – with resistance, by the way,” Lange said. “I look at the growth here in this environment, in this arena, at this time, and say ‘man, look at what this guy has done.’

“That to me is everything. It’s just him sticking with us, us sticking with him. I have no idea what it means for tomorrow, but today, this was special for him.” 

Cam Brown (above) has taken a leadership role for a young Hawks squad. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Brown struggled out the gate, scoring three points on 1-of-5 shooting. But turned things around for the 6-5 wing, and he went 5-of-9 from the field in the second half. 

“It’s just my teammates and my coaches believing in me,” Brown said about his performance. “A lot of hard work this summer. A lot of hard work during the season. And just believing [in] every shot I take. We know we’re all good players, so we all have bad games here and there. 

“So, just believe in yourself; it’s going to pay off eventually.” 

Brown’s enjoying a career season, averaging 13.3 ppg and 5.9 rpg while shooting 35.6% from the 3-point arc, all bests in his four years on Hawk Hill. He’s got one more year of eligibility left if he chooses to use it; Lange mentioned he’s already recruiting Brown to take advantage of it and come back to St. Joe’s for one more season.

More than just his on-court production, the Hawks value Brown’s leadership. He’s kept the relatively young team together throughout the season’s tough stretches with injuries to key pieces, like senior forward Ejike Obinna and sophomore Kasper Klaczek

“Cam is really the heart of our team,” Greer III added. “He really gets us going in practice and the games. Having a person like Cam, he’s always worrying about others, really not even worrying about himself. Having somebody like Cam is really helpful for us, especially us being young.” 

Klaczek, who’d missed eight of the team’s previous nine games with an ankle injury, returned to play 27 minutes, though he was scoreless on 0-5 shooting (0-3 3PT), blocking four shots and grabbing four rebounds. Obinna, who’s started 18 games at center this season for the Hawks, has missed the last four games due to season-ending foot surgery.

If the Hawks can beat the Colonials tomorrow, it would equal their win total from 2017-18, the last time they finished at .500. They haven’t been above that mark since going 28-8 in 2015-16, their last NCAA Tournament appearance; making it back to March Madness would require winning four more games in Brooklyn, certainly a tall ask.

There’s no doubt, though, that avoiding a third straight second-round A-10 tournament exit would at least represent a small step forward for the SJU men, who have a highly-touted big man in Christ Essandoko sitting out this season and a strong three-man class arriving on campus next fall.

“I think the mindset going into this is just not to waver or get away from anything that we do,” Reynolds II said. “(It’s) keep playing St. Joe’s basketball.” 

“At this point of the year,” Brown added. “Nobody wants to go home because it will end the season. Loyola Chicago played hard, and we just had to go out there and execute. 

“We can beat anybody.”

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