Derek Needham nailed a three with 16 seconds left to give Fairfield a lead that they would not relinquish. Needham's 24 points paced the Stags, who upset the Hawks 60-57, dropping Phil Martelli's squad to 5-4.
For the second consecutive game, the Hawks found themselves on the seesaw in the game's closing minutes. And for the second consecutive game, they found themselves on the losing end of a three-pointer in the game's waning seconds.
A three-point heave by St. Joe's senior guard Carl Jones was off the mark, and a little after 4 PM on Saturday, the Hawks walked off the floor at Hagan Arena with quite a bit of soul-searching to do.
Saint Joseph's played Saturday without junior forward Halil Kanacevic, who was on the bench in warm-ups, serving the first of his two-game suspension. Kanacevic's suspension is due to an "inappropriate gesture" made on December 11th in the loss at Villanova. After hitting a three, Kanacevic gave the Villanova student section the middle finger.
Needham led the way for the Stags, but they also got a major contribution down the stretch from local product Malcolm Gilbert. Gilbert, a 6'6 freshman wing from the Philadelphia area, had 8 points and 4 rebounds. Six of his points came down the stretch on huge three-pointers that came just as it seemed the Hawks were regaining momentum.
The loss Saturday highlighted three of the Hawks' most glaring weaknesses. First and foremost is the lack of contribution from the bench. With Kanacevic suspended, it seemed reasonable to expect Martelli to utilize Papa Ndao, Isaiah Miles, and Daryus Quarles off the bench. The three combined to play a total of a whopping 11 minutes. Seven of those minutes came from Ndao, and the vast majority came in the first half.
In order for this team to stem the losing tide (they've now lost 3 of 4), Martelli will need to get production out of the bench. In order to get production, he needs to trust them to play. As he has done this year, Martelli had a short leash when the game was close. Chris Wilson, C.J. Aiken, Ron Roberts, Langston Galloway, and Tay Jones all stayed on the court for nearly the entire second half.
Another weakness that shone bright Saturday was the lack of flow on the offensive side of the ball. The Hawks once again relied solely on threes and dunks. On the day, the Hawks shot 4-18 from three. Three of those threes came from Galloway.
After accounting for 17 points in the first half, and falling one rebound shy of a double-double, Ron Roberts did not see the same touches in the second half. He finished the game with 19 points to lead all Hawk scorers.
Another issue that plagued the Hawks today, as it did at Villanova, is execution down the stretch. CJ Aiken drained a corner three with 4:38 to play, giving SJU a 54-53 lead. That was the Hawks' final field goal of the game.
Their following possessions went as follows: Jones missed three, Wilson turnover, two made free throws, Galloway missed jumper, one of two free throws, turnover, and missed three. Over the game's following 4:38, the Hawks had several chances to extend a lead or to reclaim a lead. They failed to do so.
So, when Derek Needham knocked down that three with 16 seconds to go, giving the Stags a 59-57 lead, it is not as if the Hawks didn't have opportunities to prevent such an ending.
The short bench, poor end-game execution, and stagnant offensive sets are all reasons for Hawk fans to be concerned. They return to action on Friday evening against a talented Iona team. Once again they will be without Kanacevic.
If the Hawks are going to make a push in conference play, and work their way back into the tournament conversation, it will likely need to start on Friday. The back-to-back losses to Villanova and Fairfield leave little margin for error moving forward.
Stags Stun Hawks
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