Before the game, St. Joe’s head coach Phil Martelli wrote just one word on the whiteboard: win.
At halftime, that word had changed to compete.
“It bothered me to put on the board, the word compete, ” Martelli said. “I don’t like doing that. You get a scholarship, you play hard, that’s the way I see it.
“What we talked about (at the half) was competing. I thought in the first half, we were just out there just playing basketball. And this is the league-play. You don’t play in the league. You can play in the non-conference, but you gotta compete, and we didn’t compete (in our brains), we didn’t compete (in our hearts).
“You get a scholarship, and here’s what you sign: ‘I agree that I will play hard.’ That’s it … And you play hard, everyday. And we didn’t for the first half, across the board.”
Clearly the message was received. After a sluggish first 20 minutes that earned them a six-point halftime deficit, the Hawks fought back to defeat George Washington, 68-63, to open A-10 conference play.
The Hawks improved to 7-5 (1-0 Atlantic 10) while the Colonials fell to 8-6 (0-1).
George Washington abused the Hawks in the paint in the early going, outrebounding St. Joe’s, 24-8, in the first half. Pair that with the Colonials’ blistering 6 for 12 shooting from deep, and the Hawks found themselves down by as many as 12 points.
“The first half was very disappointing,” Martelli said. “We didn’t compete mentally or physically.”
George Washington shot a blistering 46 percent from three in the game, but in the end, it was Saint Joseph’s shooting from deep that made the difference in a game where the Hawks may have lost their leading scorer.
With just a minute to go in the game, and the Hawks clinging to a 64-63 lead, sophomore Lamarr Kimble nailed a contested three with the shot clock winding down to keep St. Joe’s up for good.
“I just took the shot that I’m used to taking,” Kimble said. “My confidence gave me that shot, my teammates believe in me for that shot … I’m happy it went down for us to get the win.
“I stayed confident at the end. If we lose, I’m gonna put that on my shoulders, so I don’t mind taking that last shot and trying to help the team.“
Despite the dagger three, Martelli was not impressed with Kimble’s play overall. Kimble had 13 points on 5 for 16 shooting.
“I don’t think he was very good, I really don’t. Where he led was where you wouldn’t see it. He led in the timeout huddles. He’s gotta play better basketball, and he will, but I was more impressed with his leadership than any of his basketball.”
With just four seconds to go in the first half, it looked like tragedy struck for St. Joe’s. With the Hawks on an 8-2 run, and clawing their way back into the game, Shavar Newkirk stole the ball with a clear path ahead of him.
Newkirk went up for the uncontested layup, but he couldn’t get off the ground. The team’s leading-scorer failed to get the shot off as he grabbed his left leg, hopping to the corner of Hagan Arena as the buzzer sounded.
“I didn’t see it,” Martelli said. “I didn’t see the end of it. I was watching the clock to make sure that he was going to make the layup.”
Newkirk remained facedown behind the Colonials’ bench for over two minutes before being carried off the court. The junior guard returned to the Hawks’ bench halfway through the second half with a heavy brace on his left knee. Newkirk suffered a knee injury, and will have an MRI to determine the severity, according to Martelli.
“I just thought he probably twisted his ankle going up for the layup,” Kimble said.
With sophomore Chris Clover taking over for Newkirk, the Hawks picked up right where they left off to start the second, quickly tying the game at 39. With an improved defensive effort, it wasn’t long before the Hawks took their first lead of the game at 51-48.
“Just because one of our main players are down, we can’t fold and be sorry about that,” Kimble said. “I think it was good that we went out there and kind of got that for him, knowing that he wasn’t on the court.”
With timely stops on D and a turnaround performance on the boards, the Hawks hung tight with the Colonials, trading leads throughout the final 10 minutes.
Freshman Charlie Brown came up huge for the Hawks down the stretch, hitting a pair of threes to keep pace with the Colonials before Kimble sealed it.
The Colonials — who average 34 percent from three on the year — finished 12 for 26 from beyond the arc. Comparatively, St. Joe’s shot just 5 for 14 from deep, but hit that one that mattered most.