Papa Ndao (above, left) made his return to the court after more than 600 days away and was key in a St. Joe's road win. (Photo: Madeline Pryor/CoBL)
Madeline Pryor (@maddyyypryor)
NEW YORK -- Six hundred and twenty-four days. That’s how long it has been since Saint Joseph’s forward Papa Ndao has seen the floor in a live contest.
That number can now return to zero, as Friday night was the return of the fifth-year forward, who sat out all of the 2014-2015 season with complications from a blood disorder, and was just cleared on gameday to play against Columbia after injuring his finger in the preseason.
Thanks to three big second-half 3-pointers by Ndao, the Hawks came out on top of a close road game, 80-78.
Ndao entered the game after just two and a half minutes, and had some catching up to do. After playing for just under four minutes, he had committed two fouls and came out of the game.
“Well in the first half it looked like he tried to contribute on every play,” noted SJU head coach Phil Martelli.
After the team struggled as a whole in the first half, Martelli came up with a new strategy.
“In the second half we just went as old as we could go,” the 21st-year head coach said.
This included Ndao, who came up big for the Hawks in the stressful contest. He went 3-for-3 from behind the arc during his five minutes of playing time in the second half. His nine points were vital to a 52-point second half for St. Joe’s.
With just over 17 minutes left in the game, his first made basket tied things up at 36, while his second and third gave St. Joe’s a lead that went back-and-forth for a large portion of the game.
“I knew what I had to do, I knew what the team needed,” Ndao said. “And I just felt like I had to do it, and I went out and did it.
St. Joe’s senior Aaron Brown led all scorers with 26 points.
“Aaron’s thing is just about pace...I thought he had great pace, and he had great recognition,” Martelli said. “He knew there were times when we could get a layup and you don’t want to settle for jumpers.”
Normally the biggest threat on the court for St. Joe’s is A-10 Preseason Player of the Year DeAndre Bembry. He was held scoreless for the first 27 minutes of the game, and his teammates stepped up to fill in the gaps.
In the last 13 minutes, he nearly completed a triple-double with 12 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists.
Senior Isaiah Miles made an impact in the first half with 12 points and three blocks, while freshman Lamarr Kimble came up big later in the game. He calmly sank two free throws with 14 seconds left in the game to secure the win.
“No one was bigger than ‘Fresh' Kimble,’” said Martelli. “He has bumped along, but he had a steal that put us up one, he had a floater and he made two big free throws. So that’s a good step forward, so now we’ve got to get some of the other younger guys back in the flow here.”
“We have a good, balanced team,” Ndao added. He continued, ”Anybody on the team can go off for a big night...of course DeAndre’s the leader of the team, he’s a captain, but we’ve got many weapons on the team, even on the bench, people who haven’t played yet, there’s a lot of people who can contribute.”
Finally, Ndao is one of those team members that can contribute.
Over his time at St. Joe’s, Ndao hasn’t had the opportunity to really break out. While he saw time as a starter in the 2011-2012 season as Daryus Quarles was injured, and again in the 2013-2014 season for an injured Ronald Roberts, Jr., he was never able to stay in those situations for long.
This season though, he’s got a bigger role to play.
“Being a leader as much as I can, just helping the younger guys,” he said. “Directing traffic and just telling them, stay talking to them and helping out in any ways that I can.”
As for getting his first minutes on the floor in 624 days, Papa certainly had a good time.
“It was fun,” he said. “There’s nothing like playing a real game and having fans there. [I was] Just having fun and enjoying the game.”
Ndao isn’t the only one excited about being back on the roster.
“It’s always great because Pap’s been battling with injury and he just seemed like he could never catch a break, “Brown said. “He’s like a brother, like all of us, so we’re all happy for him. We’re all in the locker room chanting for him because, you know, it’s his time. It’s his time.”