Taylor Funk (above) and St. Joe's downed VCU in overtime on Wednesday night. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Zach Drapkin (@ZachDrapkin)
After a loss to George Washington in which Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli said his team played but didn’t compete, the Hawks needed to grind out their next game and compete.
Compete they did against VCU on Wednesday night, for 45 minutes.
The Hawks outlasted the Rams in overtime, 87-81, to pick up their first conference win of the season.
Getting a conference victory, much less one against VCU, should be a big confidence booster for St. Joe’s (6-7, 1-1 A-10), which has struggled this season without two of its starters: Lamarr Kimble is out for the year after getting injured in the season opener and Charlie Brown, who hasn’t seen the court yet at all, was just pronounced out for at least another three weeks due to his fractured left wrist.
So, while Martelli had a lot to criticize in his postgame press conference, there was a positive air around just picking up the win.
“It feels great to win for their faith in themselves,” Martelli said.
Coming in, St. Joe’s had lost two straight, and Saturday’s 70-64 loss against GW was particularly disappointing, as the Hawks were out of it the entire game, shooting 37 percent from the field and 24 percent from 3-point land.
St. Joe’s struggled offensively once again on Wednesday, finishing 26-of-69 (38 percent) from the floor and 6-of-21 (29 percent) from deep, but this time, they overcame the struggles and found a way to win.
In the overtime period, the Hawks led 79-78 with under three minutes remaining but ran off eight straight points to seal the game.
Freshman wing Taylor Funk scored six of his 19 points in the extra frame, knocking down a clutch 3-pointer with 1:40 to go to push St. Joe’s lead to six, 84-78.
“I knew I had to get a shot up, coach drew up a play, I thought I had some space, shot it and it went in,” Funk said. “You’ve got to shoot with confidence, especially in overtime.”
VCU (9-6, 1-1 A-10) couldn’t connect on its shots down the stretch, and when Shavar Newkirk found James Demery backdoor with 18 seconds remaining, the Hawks went up eight points, essentially sealing the game.
“I think we competed at a league level,” Martelli said. “We didn’t do that Saturday. We played on Saturday. Tonight we competed.
“That game called for basketball plays, basketball plays, basketball plays,” he added. “We made just enough to win.”
Due to some costly errors near the end of regulation, St. Joe’s nearly didn’t make it to OT. After leading 75-71 with two minutes to go, the Hawks allowed Jonathan Williams to drive for an and-one to cut the lead to one.
The Rams failed to score on multiple possessions and set Pierfrancesco Oliva up at the line with 23 seconds to go, still up one, but Oliva split two shots and allowed Williams to tie the game on an up-and-under, still 10 seconds to spare.
On the ensuing possession, Newkirk got by his defender and had an open lane as the clock ticked down, but the senior guard fumbled the ball out of bounds with 1.2 seconds left.
“It was a fake handoff, take it to the rack. Georgia used it the other night to get into the college football (national championship), it was a wildcat,” Martelli said. “Good plan, poorly executed.”
“We executed our play at the end of regulation, ‘Var just mishandled it,” Funk added. “But he was wide open for a layup.”
VCU then had 1.2 seconds to heave the ball the length of the floor and get a shot up -- and the Rams did just that.
Hawks guard Nick Robinson batted the initial lob down, but VCU senior Justin Tillman picked up the deflection and swished a three at the buzzer which would have won the game.
Upon further review, however, it took 1.3 seconds to get the shot up, and the referees sent the game to OT.
“It was just the luck of the draw, Nick had it, he just missed it,” Funk said. “I didn’t think he got it off, and he didn’t, but we can’t have those kind of bonehead plays.”
“I take the win, the win’s great, no one’s getting that back,” Martelli said, “but we can’t walk out of here and say that was picture perfect. It just wasn’t.”
Newkirk’s performance as a whole was certainly not something to be proud of. He started the game 4-of-6 from the field and finished it 4-of-18, this outside of his crucial turnover.
He’s been very spotty on offense all year, coming into the game shooting just 36.5 percent on field goal attempts, but the showing against VCU was particularly poor.
“We’re going to have to overcome it by coming to practice tomorrow and really being in [Newkirk’s] backside because that’s not an all-league performance,” Martelli said. “That’s not a performance that we need at point guard.”
Another point of emphasis was missed layups, and St. Joe’s had plenty. Demery, who surpassed 1,000 career points on Wednesday, contributed six in the first half alone, winding up 5-of-15 shooting on the evening for 13 points and eight rebounds.
The Hawks as a unit weren’t incredibly consistent inside the paint, but they did do an excellent job of getting there, which led to the biggest scale-tipper of the game -- free throw shooting.
St. Joe’s outscored VCU 29-5 from the foul line, attempting 38 shots from the stripe over the course of the game. Robinson went 11-of-14 from the line for a 13-point showing, and Oliva was 4-of-6 en route to 15 points and seven rebounds.
“In this game, finishing in the lane was a big deal,” Martelli said. “We wanted to be a team that went to the basket because our numbers are our numbers. We really have a legitimate three-point threat in Taylor Funk, and then everybody else really should be taking the ball to the basket.”
Still without Brown and Kimble, the Hawks did a good job of finding a balanced offense, with five different scorers in double-digits and another, Anthony Longpré, with eight points coming off the bench.
For VCU, Tillman led with game-highs of 22 points and 16 rebounds.
Not turning the ball over has remained a strength all year for St. Joe’s, and the Hawks won the turnover battle once again versus VCU, 20-9. They turned 20 Rams turnovers into only nine points, however.
In short, there are positives to take away from the victory, but St. Joe’s still has things to improve on.
“The beauty is that we have to practice tomorrow,” Martelli said. “We’ve got a lot to do.”