St. Joe's entered Sunday night's City 6 match-up with Drexel as losers of four straight. Not only that, but they were coming off a blowout 31-point loss last weekend at Villanova. While it would probably be melodramatic to call last night's game a 'must-win,' it had that feel to it. And the Hawks came out of the gate about as poorly as you could have drawn it up, trailing 17-6 at the game's first media timeout. The Hawks crept back in, thanks in large part to a fantastic first-half by senior Brendan Casper, only to have Drexel push the lead back up to 32-21 with 3:58 left in the first half. St. Joe's closed the half, however, on a 13-6 run, capped by a Shavar Newkirk buzzer-beating jumper right before the half.
The second half started much like the first, however, with Drexel hitting from three and using the strong play of senior forward Rodney Williams inside. After St. Joe's had cut Drexel's lead to four at the half, Drexel built back a double-digit lead, 49-38, just five minutes into the second stanza.This is when the Hawks made their push, and Brendan Casper found himself right in the middle of the action. His lay-up at the 10:26 mark tied it up at 52, and moments later he found Shavar Newkirk for a clean look to give SJU a 54-52 lead, capping a 16-3 Hawk run. With just over 5 minutes to play, Charlie Brown hit his lone three-ball of the game, tying things up at 61. From there, it was all Shavar Newkirk the rest of the way, scoring all 11 Hawk points, including the game-winning and-one with 11 seconds to play. Javon Baumann and then Nick Robinson blocked Drexel's two shots in the game's closing seconds, allowing the Hawks to walk off the court with a nail-biter of a win.
Shavar Newkirk stole the show down the stretch for St. Joe's, and he finished with 27 points, 7 boards, and 4 assists in the win. Newkirk is now averaging 21.1 points per game this season, while shooting 50% from the field, 43% from three, and 79% from the line. He is also averaging 4.6 boards and 4 assists per game. His drastic improvements in every single statistical category this season are eye-opening.
The Hawks got invaluable bench contributions last night from seniors Javon Baumann and Brendan Casper. Casper had a career-high 10 points to go along with 4 rebounds, 2 assists, and 2 steals. Baumann corralled a career-high 9 rebounds, to go along with 6 points and 2 blocks, including a game-sealing block on the perimeter with 1.7 seconds left. It's also worth noting that Casper played 23 minutes,e which is 8 more than freshman starter Nick Robinson. Baumann played 22 minutes, which is ten minutes more than starting big Markell Lodge. Casper's numbers will decrease once James Demery returns from injury, but Baumann's play last night has to help his case for more playing time moving forward this season.
With the win last night, St. Joe's snaps that four-game losing streak and improves to 4-4 on the year. Not that RPI means much eight games into the season, but the Hawks have an RPI of 62 per RealTimeRPI. On RPIForecast, they check in at 59. St. Joe's returns to action Wednesday night at 5 o'clock when they play the return game in a home-and-home with Princeton.
Like the Hawks, Princeton is 4-4. Their wins are over Rowan, Lafayette, Hawaii, and Liberty, while their losses are against BYU, Lehigh, Hawaii, and Liberty. Princeton just announced yesterday that 6'9 senior forward Hans Brace is out for the year. He was averaging 6.4 points in just over 15 minutes per game off the bench for the Tigers. The Tigers have five players averaging north of nine points per game, led by senior forward Steven Cook's 13.5 a night. Princeton is a deep team too, with 11 players averaging double-digit minutes. And no Tiger averages more than 28 minutes per game.
I'll have a full preview up Tuesday night for the Princeton-Hawk tilt.