As a point guard whose game revolves around driving to the hoop and getting to the foul line, Shavar Newkirk has experience making all kinds of different free throws.
Game-winners. Swishes. Even ones that have no business going in.
So when the Saint Joseph’s junior stepped to the line with Sunday’s game against Drexel tied at 71-71 with 10.7 seconds left, he didn’t feel much pressure. He didn’t pay attention to the Dragons fans’ waving their arms like crazy behind the basket. And he didn’t worry when his shot bounced high off the rim ... before eventually dropping through and sending St. Joe’s to a 72-71 victory over its city rival at the refurbished Daskalakis Athletic Center (see Instant Replay).
“Shooter’s touch,” he said, flashing a smile.
Newkirk certainly had the touch Sunday night — and without it, the Hawks (4-4) would have almost certainly lost to Drexel (4-5) for the first time in six tries.
For the game, he made 10 of the 13 two-point shots he attempted, including his team’s first one and a buzzer-beater before halftime that helped St. Joe’s stay within striking distance despite getting outplayed in the first half. He shot 7 of 10 from the free-throw line with all seven of those makes coming in the second half and six in the final seven minutes when the two teams traded leads. And, most impressively, he scored his team’s final 11 points, capped by an acrobatic driving layup while getting fouled — the pivotal play that preceded his game-winning free throw.
“I saw that we needed a spark,” Newkirk said. “Brendan Casper did a good job in the first half. And I felt, as a leader of the team, I could provide that.”
St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli was certainly pleased with his team’s leaders as Casper, a senior, scored 10 points and Javon Baumann, another senior, came through with a critical block on Drexel’s final offensive possession to help seal the win. And he liked that Newkirk and fellow point guard Lamarr Kimble (16 points) came through when it mattered most and helped the team overcame a dreadful 3-for-18 shooting night from behind the arc and snap a four-game losing skid.
But when asked if he was proud of his team’s resiliency in overcoming an 11-point second-half deficit, he instead lamented about the lack of urgency in some of the Hawks’ young players.
“No, not really,” Martelli said. “I’m happy for them because this is a tough time going into exams. But some of our young guys are still back at Hagan [Arena]. They didn’t even make the trip. That’s not going to be nearly good enough facing what we have to face.”
Like St. Joe’s, Drexel got big-time performances from its top players as senior forward Rodney Williams had a career-high 29 points and 10 rebounds and lightning-quick freshman point guard Kurk Lee had 16 points and six assists.
Williams, who’s suffered through two straight rough seasons, looked like he had a spring in his step while playing under a new point guard in Lee and a new head coach in Zach Spiker, dominating the paint and making one especially pretty scooping layup in the first half.
But when the game ended and he missed out on a golden opportunity to beat St. Joe’s for the first time, Williams looked understandably distraught.
“That’s what Rodney’s capable of,” Spiker said of his senior’s 29-point game. “We need that more often than not. Rodney is one of our featured players. Tonight he did a lot of good things. As I told the guys in the locker room, though, I don’t think anyone should feel good that we played St. Joe’s a little close because we’re shorthanded. Everyone could have made one or two more plays. That’s what’s sickening to us.”
Spiker admitted that the team’s depth, coupled with foul trouble, was an issue as starting guard Miles Overton missed the game with a lower-leg injury. But he believes that giving a lot of guys experience in this kind of a “dogfight” vs. a Philly team will be beneficial in the long run.
“This feeling sucks,” Spiker said. “But we’ll be a better team in March because of this game.”
Despite coming out of the win, Martelli found less reason for optimism than his coaching counterpart. If anything, he thinks his team relying on Newkirk and Kimble as much as it did should be a wake-up call as Atlantic 10 play approaches.
“If they don’t score, we’re back to the rock ages,” the St. Joe’s coach said. “We’re scoring 42 points, we’re not gonna beat anybody.
“Shavar saw what was needed and did what he had to do. But we need balance. When we play up leagues, we can’t ride them. They need to be part of a picture that right now is incomplete.”