By Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)
HAWK HILL — The St. Joe’s men’s basketball team was on its first losing streak of the season when it took the court against Sacred Heart at Hagan Arena on Sunday afternoon.
The Hawks grabbed an early lead and did enough down the stretch to make sure the skid didn’t get past two games.
“We had a tough past nine days, tough two games that we lost but we just want to keep being as united as we can, and we showed up today and was able to get a good win against a good team,” said senior guard Cameron Brown, who led the way with 16 points. “A few bumps but we was able to battle through.”
St. Joe's freshman Xzayvier Brown dribbles the ball Sunday against Sacred Heart. (Photo: Gavin Bethell/CoBL)
St. Joe’s 3-point shooting let it down in a 57-54 Texas A&M-Commerce on Nov. 17 — the Hawks’ first of the season. The long ball helped the Hawks out to an early lead Sunday and kept them in the game during a 96-88 overtime loss at Kentucky last week.
Sacred Heart was within three, 23-20, with 3:31 to play before St. Joe’s hit three triples during an 11-2 run to close the half up double digits. The Hawks grew that lead to 17 a minute and a half into the second half with five straight, including a Rasheer Fleming three.
The Hawks shot 8-of-22 from deep in the first half and finished 11-of-33 from deep in the game as their attempts came inside the arc more frequently after the break.
Brown had his team-high 16 points on 4-of-10 shooting from deep. Junior guard Erik Reynolds (3-for-10 from 3-point range) and Fleming both had 12.
“I think we just gotta stick with what we do because we work on it everyday,” Reynolds said. “Us just believing in that and believing in the work, we just gotta keep shooting it with confidence. Defense really wins, so as long as we keep doing what we do and being united on that end, we’re good.”
The Hawks have relied on the 3-point shot throughout Lange’s five-year tenure, consistently ranking among the top 40 or 50 teams in attempts, makes and percentage of points from the long ball. This season, St. Joe’s is fourth in the country with 51 percent of its scoring from 3-point range.
Lange said against Commerce, Kentucky and Sacred Heart that was in part due to the fact those teams have success blocking shots at the rim. He thinks his team is generating better shots than years past. The team’s 33.8 3-point percentage is currently the best of any of the team’s he coached. (They shot 33.6 percent from 3-point range in 2021-22, which ranked 178th.)
St. Joe's junior Lynn Greer III attempts one of the Hawks' 33 3-point shots on Sunday. (Photo: Gavin Bethell/CoBL)
Players like Reynolds (two assists), junior guard Lynn Greer III (three assists) and freshman guard Xzayvier Brown (five assists) are creating looks from the drive. The drives were turning into layups for themselves and others late in the game, including a Reynolds dump off to Fleming for a dunk with a minute left that marked the final bucket of the game.
“You have to put pressure on the rim,” Lange said. “The only way you’re getting good looks from beyond the arc is constant pressure on the rim and we’ve got guys who can do it. We’ve got guards who can do it. We’ve got Christ, who’s only in his fifth game and he’s just trying to settle in. … The layups come from the threat of the 3-point shot and the threat of the 3-point shot is because of driving the basketball.”
Brown’s been there throughout Lange’s tenure and he can attest, there is something different this season. That’s highlighted by the team’s assist rate. The Hawks are currently tallying assists on 65.5 percent of their field goals, which is 13th best in the country.
St. Joe’s turned the ball over 21 times Sunday but the 17 assists on 23 made shots pointed to some of that playmaking. Freshman forward Christ Essandoko had just four points and four rebounds in 25 minutes, but he also had four assists and was a team-best plus-18 while on the floor.
“Everything that every team and every coach does is generally highlighted or lowlighted by the personnel that does it,” Lange said. “We have good passers. We have a very good passing front court player in Christ. X, Lynn, these guys are good passers and generally the philosophy has been to share the basketball over time, so you have some guys who have done that for a few years.”
St. Joe’s started its season with three straight wins. The Hawks travel to St. Joe’s on Wednesday for a Big 5 game. A win would give the team its second winning streak of the season and a spot in the inaugural Big 5 championship game on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“It’s a big opportunity for us, a big game,” Brown said. “The goal is to play in the championship game at Wells Fargo.”