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Saint Joseph's trying to find life late in season

02/17/2018, 10:45pm EST
By Josh Verlin

Taylor Funk (above, in Dec.) and St. Joe's won their third straight game over Duquesne on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The 3-pointer that Taylor Funk launched from a few feet behind the arc’s left wing with just over four minutes left in Saint Joseph’s game against Duquesne on Saturday evening at Hagan Arena was a meaningful one for several reasons.

First, it gave the freshman forward from Manheim, Pa. the new 3-point mark for Hawks freshman, pushing him past teammate Charlie Brown Jr., who hit 71 triples a year ago.

Second, it was the 10th assist for Shavar Newkirk, giving the senior point guard not only a new career-best in dimes but also his third career double-double and his first with points and assists.

And most importantly, it was a backbreaking shot in the Hawks’ 82-75 win over the Dukes, one which keeps Phil Martelli’s squad right in the mix in a jumbled Atlantic 10 Conference.

Now 12-14 overall but more importantly 7-7 in the A-10, St. Joe’s is tied with VCU and Richmond for fifth place in the 14-team league, one game behind Saint Louis for fourth.

Beating Duquesne, which also entered Saturday’s contest at 6-7 in league play, runs St. Joe’s current streak of wins to a season-high three, which followed a season-worst five-game losing streak. Martelli ends each scouting report with the current A-10 standings, so there’s no doubt the Hawks knew the importance of beating the Dukes given their close proximity.

“Slowly, we are turning it around and making our way back to the upper half [of the league],” Funk said. “This was a big one, we had the same [league] record going into the game.”

Funk, a 6-foot-8 forward out of Manheim Central, didn’t have his best shooting night; the 40-percent 3-point shooter was only 2-of-8 from deep, and missed his only two attempts inside the arc.

But that was still enough to pass Brown, the talented 6-6 wing from Northeast Philly who’s missed all of this season so far with a fractured wrist that was originally supposed to only keep him out the first few games of the season. St. Joe’s hasn’t made it official that Brown won’t make his return this year, though Funk seemed to confirm it.

“It’s a cool record to break, any record to break is a cool one,” Funk said. “It’s cool that it’s my teammate, I’m going to play with him next year, so I need guess I’ll be trash talking there a little with Charlie Brown.”

Funk, who finished with nine points in the win -- a few shy of his 12.3 ppg average entering the night -- has been a big reason St. Joe’s has been able to stay afloat in the A-10 despite the absences of Brown and starting point guard Lamarr Kimble, who broke a bone in his foot in the season opener and is taking a redshirt this year.

Martelli said he couldn’t find fault with any of Funk’s shot attempts on the evening; in general, Funk’s strong shot selection is a key reason he’s hitting just above 40 percent from the arc on the year. But that doesn’t mean he was thrilled with the 2-for-8 outing.

“To be honest with you, he has to shoot better,” Martelli said. “Which sounds crazy about Taylor Funk but he has to shoot better because those shots are dead in his wheelhouse, dead in his wheelhouse. I don’t buy all that freshman stuff. You’re a player, you’ve played 26 games, and he needs to play better, he needs to shoot better.”

The record-breaker put St. Joe’s up 13 with 4:13 to play, and came with a foul, though Funk was unable to complete the four-point play. St. Joe’s briefly expanded the lead to 15 on the next possession, but Duquesne closed strong, getting within six with 33 seconds left before a pair of foul shots by Newkirk -- the last of his 26-point, 10-assist, 0-turnover effort -- made sure the Hawks held on.

Sophomore wing Nick Robinson added to the St. Joe’s players setting new career highs, establishing his in points (16) and rebounds (11) for his first career double-double.

St. Joe’s helped its visitor out down the stretch, turning it over several times in the final three minutes and missing a few free throws as well.

“To me, you have to play to what’s going to be successful in March,” Martelli said. “That last stretch of time would not be successful in March, and we’re going to be hanging our heads and saying ‘what if.’ We’ve had enough ‘what if’ games on our schedule that didn’t go our way, including the one coming up on Wednesday.”

Martelli was hinting at the Hawks’ next game, at home against George Mason on Wednesday. St. Joe’s had the Patriots on the ropes in January, before a 30-foot 3-pointer by Otis Livingston II at the buzzer delivered an 81-79 win for GMU (12-15, 6-8).

That’s one of five losses by three points or fewer that St. Joe’s has suffered in conference play alone. Prior to beating Duquesne, the Hawks didn’t have a single-digit win in conference play since beating St. Bonaventure by seven on Jan. 6, a span of 12 games.

“I think we’ve matured since earlier in the season,” Funk said. “Home court, you can’t lose these games and I never had that feeling that we were going to lose. They took the lead but we came right back, just have to keep fighting for 40 minutes.”

Following the game against Mason, St. Joe’s gets another key matchup at Richmond (9-17, 7-7) and then travels to conference frontrunner Rhode Island (21-4, 13-1), before finishing at home against La Salle (11-16, 5-9).

Wins in three of four would easily put St. Joe’s in the top eight in the league, which would mean the Hawks get to avoid playing in the first round of the A-10 tournament in Washington D.C. (March 7-10). But they’d likely have to win all four to have a shot at a top-four spot, which guarantees a spot right into the quarterfinals.

“If we can get any byes in the A-10 tournament, it’s definitely going to help us a lot,” Funk said. “This was a big one...but all these games we’re about to play are big games, so we’ve got to keep winning.”

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