St. Joe's jumped on NC State early in the third-place game of the Paradise Jam Tuesday evening. The Hawks led by as many as 11 early on, taking a 20-9 lead on a Javon Baumann jam. St. Joe's then suffered a roughly 8 minute drought without a field goal, and that 20-9 lead disappeared. The Wolfpack built up a first-half lead as great as 6, and entered up 34-30 on the Hawks. For the second night in a row, St. Joe's trailed by four as they headed into the halftime locker room.
Then, for the second night in a row, the Hawks struggled out of the gate in the second half. Just three minutes into the second half, that four-point NC State lead swelled to 13, at 45-32, thanks to an 11-2 run. Throughout the rest of the second half, NC State would built up a lead of eight or ten points, and things would appear to be getting out of hand. But then the Hawks would respond, typically in the form of a Shavar Newkirk or Charlie Brown bucket. But then the Wolfpack would have an answer every time. St. Joe's last stand came when they pulled within 69-63 on a Chris Clover jumper in the lane. The Hawks were down just six with 2:38 to play. State ran clock, forced up a tough shot, but grabbed the offensive rebound. They then ran more clock and Dennis Smith earned a trip to the line with 1:35 to go. He calmly knocked down both free throws to extend the game to a three-possession game. And just as importantly, the Wolfpack ate up more than a minute of game clock. That was it for the Hawks, who fell to 1-2 on the trip and 3-2 on the season with the loss. Here are my five major takeaways from Tuesday night.
1) This year's Hawk team is scrappy. That sounds like a backhanded compliment, and I don't mean it that way. It may sound like false praise. It's the type of thing you say to a boxer who isn't that good but won't give up. But I mean this in the best possible way. NC State has a top ten NBA pick in Dennis Smith. Their frontcourt of Malik Abdul Abu and BJ Anya is unlike anything the Hawks will see the rest of the season. Sophomore Torin Dorn is one of the better wings the Hawks will face this year. St. Joe's was without its best perimeter defender in James Demery. All of that being said, they were down two possessions with two minutes to go. The Hawks were well coached Tuesday. They were disciplined. Dennis Smith and Torin Dorn were a combined 8-12 from three. Lamarr Kimble, who I will get to later, was just 1-15. All of that, and this Hawk team had this game within reach under the final media timeout. There were positives to take from this game, and St. Joe's toughness is at the top of that list.
2) Shavar Newkirk is playing like a First-Team All-League player. Let that sink in for a moment. This is the same player who, just two years ago as a freshman, shot 28% from the field. He hit 6 threes all season. In 622 minutes, he scored 103 points. So far this year, Shavar has more points than he did all of his freshman year. In just 5 games. He is 7-17 from three (41%), meaning he has more threes in five games this year than he did his entire freshman campaign. His game has reached a completely different plateau. Shavar is stronger. He's shiftier. He appears faster. I look at how he's played this season, averaging 21.8 points, 4.2 rebounds, and 3.8 assists, and I don't honestly know what Atlantic 10 guard I would take over him right now. Especially at the point guard position. Can he sustain this? Will he wear down? I'm not sure. Right now though, he's playing at the highest level. This year, I hope that's one thing that Hawk fans could get pleasure from and enjoy. He's been scintillating.
3) The three-headed center situation is really fascinating. Markell Lodge started last night in the middle but played just 12 minutes. He had 4 points and 6 boards in those minutes. Logically you could look at that and say, well, if he played most of the game, like 36 minutes, he'd post 12 points and 18 boards. But then Javon Baumann was also productive in his minutes, and he played more than Lodge. Javon had 4 and 4 in 18 minutes. Then Jai Williams actually was the leading scorer of the big men, with 6 points and 2 boards in 10 minutes. Combined, in 40 minutes, the three centers posted 14 points and 12 rebounds. I do think you take that, especially against a frontline with that type of size. However moving forward, I don't know how this all works. Will it continue to be a platoon? Or will Phil Martelli settle on one of the bigs getting the lion's share of the minutes?
4) For St. Joe's to have success moving forward, Lamarr Kimble needs, desperately, to get back on track. Kimble shot just 3-13 against Ole Miss Monday. Then he was just 1-15 from the field Tuesday against NC State, A modest 5-15 game from Kimble on Tuesday and the entire outcome may have been different. In the first three games this year, all wins, Kimble averaged 20.3 points and shot 23-47 (49%) from the field. In the two losses he was 4-28 (14%) from the field. And averaged just 6.5 points. Lost in the win against Columbia was the fact that he shot really poorly there too. If you take out the 5-8 game from three against Loyola, he's a combined 3-23 from three. That's 13%. That's alarming. Kimble needs to find his shooting stroke, and soon, for the Hawks to stay afloat with James Demery out.
5) That brings us to our last point, which is that next Wednesdays home game against Temple is a huge one. The Hawks are 3-2, and have back-to-back-to-back city games against Temple, Villanova, and Drexel. At Villanova will be near impossible. This Temple game, which is probably a coin-toss type of game, is one the Hawks need to gut out a win. Otherwise you are likely looking at entering that Drexel game with 4 straight losses and therefore a losing overall season record of 3-4. It's going to be tough without Demery, but it's a Big 5 home game, and one the Hawks need.
Tomorrow I will begin wrapping up these Player Profiles. I still have Lorenzo Edwards, Jai Williams, Javon Baumann, and Gerald Blount. All four will be covered this week.