Graham Foley (@graham_foley3)
As coach Phil Martelli addressed the media following Saint Joseph’s 90-87 loss to Rhode Island in the Atlantic-10 Tournament Semifinals, he opened by bringing up his team’s loss to George Mason on Feb. 21.
The Hawks trailed by as many as 20 in that game with 15 minutes left but found a way to claw all the way back, tying the game for the first time with six seconds left.
In the end, a remarkable Patriots three at the buzzer killed the Hawks’ comeback effort. Martelli said that after the game, he had a surprising message for his players.
“Some would take it harshly but I told my team, that day, we got exactly what we deserved,” Martelli said. “We worked our way back. But we had not really made an emotional commitment that night to the game.”
But in Saturday’s loss, a game in which St. Joe’s led for 34 minutes and had a 10-point lead with just more than 16 minutes left, Martelli thought the effort he saw did not translate to the scoreboard.
“Tonight, the opposite is true,” Martelli said. “We didn’t get exactly what we deserved. That was a championship effort.”
The Hawks had six players score in double figures and hit nine of their 18 three-point attempts. Their 87 points were tied for the most they scored in a game all season and their 56 percent shooting day (32-of-57) was also best on the year.
But it wasn’t enough as the Rams avenged a 30-point senior-night loss to the Hawks on Feb. 27 and moved on to the A-10 Final. As a result, St. Joe’s season, spurred along at the end by seven victories in eight games, came to a close.
With it, senior Shavar Newkirk wrapped up his career at Hawk Hill.
The point guard from New York averaged 10.7 ppg over his four years and became the 55th Hawk ever to score 1,000 career points, despite missing 19 games last year with an injury. He started in 77 career games and was the starting point guard on the 2015-16 Atlantic-10 Champion team.
He said that, while it was a disappointing finish to his career, he too was proud of his team’s effort.
“I thought I would cry after the game but I didn’t,” Newkirk said. “I guess because I knew I gave it all that I had, I went out blazing. And I’m happy with my career at St. Joe’s.”
On Saturday, Newkirk was a prime example of the Hawks’ effort. He led the team in points (18), rebounds (8) and assists (6).
Two minutes into the second half, he suffered an injury to his foot after going hard to the basket. He missed nearly four minutes, but came back into the game to pull together a crucial three-point play that quelled a Rams run and extended the Hawks’ lead to six.
When all was said and done, Newkirk thought it was execution, not effort, that cost the Hawks a victory.
“We put in our hearts but we didn’t finish the rebounding part,” Newkirk said. “I feel like we got what we deserved, it was part of the game plan, finish the offensive rebounds, and they went over the limit. You get what you put in. But we did play hard.”
Fellow senior James Demery added 14 points on a 6-of-11 shooting day. The 6-6 forward from Williamston, N.C. played in 117 career games for the Hawks, starting in 75 of them. The 2016-17 All-Big 5 Second Team selection scored in double-figures 67 times, averaging 11.1 ppg and 4.6 rpg in his career.
He too said his final game as a Hawk was one in which he gave his all.
“Yeah it’s a little disappointing because my guys, we really fought today,” Demery said. “Shavar injured his toe, we really had guys really pushing through it. We just ran out of gas at the end. But there was a reason that we ran out of gas, we worked so hard.”
With a long season in the rear-view mirror, those two seniors will soon move on from their collegiate careers. In four years, the two of them won 68 games and an Atlantic 10 title.
And as their head coach prepares for his 24th season at St. Joe’s, he will have plenty of talent coming back with him. Sophomore guard Nick Robinson, who averaged 13.2 ppg while starting the last nine games of the season, could take over for Newkirk running the point.
Two key pieces who missed this season with injuries will rejoin the active roster, one of which being sophomore forward Charlie Brown, who started 30 games as a freshman, averaging 12.8 ppg and scoring in double figures 25 times on his way to an Atlantic-10 All-Rookie Team honor. He missed the year with a fractured left wrist.
Also returning will be junior guard and captain Lamarr Kimble, a Neumann-Goretti product who averaged 15.5 ppg last year but re-injured his fifth metatarsal in his left foot during the season opener and had to have season-ending surgery.
In addition, the Hawks will regain some key pieces from this year, like sophomore forward Pierfrancesco Oliva, who averaged 6.5 ppg and 7.0 rpg this season, and freshman forwards Taylor Funk and Anthony Longpre’ who each scored in double figures on Saturday.
Before Martelli can move on to his promising 2018-19 team, Saturday’s loss will undoubtedly sit with him for some time.
But he knows that, eventually, he’ll look back on the Hawks’ season-ending loss and be impressed by his team’s performance against a nationally-ranked opponent.
“There’s going to be a point in time when I’m daydreaming this summer and I’ll say, you know what, that’s pretty good,” Martelli said. “It took 90 to beat us. Anything short of 90, we would have won that game.”
“We’re walking out of here having shot 56 percent against that defense,” he added. “It hurts because we’re collecting our uniforms, but we’re not walking out of here chumps. We can walk out as champs.”