Friday night's Atlantic 10 opener inside Hagan Arena saw St. Joe's and George Washington square off for the first time since last year's A10 tournament game that saw the Hawks essentially punch their NCAA tournament ticket while sending the Colonials to the NIT. It was a game that started off looking exactly like what it was: St. Joe's first game in eight days. Aside from strong early play from freshman wing Nick Robinson, who scored the first seven SJU points, nobody on the Hawks could buy a bucket. GW took an early 12-3 rebounding advantage to a 25-15 lead. The GW lead swelled to 33-21 on a three by GW forward Collin Smith. The Hawks, however, would close the half on a 8-2 run that could have been even closer. And the half ended with a play that certainly, on the surface, could impact the rest of the Hawks' season.
With under five seconds left in the half, Shavar Newkirk stole the ball from Jared Sina and flew down the court. Something happened, whether he didn't catch his footing or he didn't land properly, but Newkirk went down at the end of the half in excruciating pain. He popped up momentarily, but went quickly back down before eventually having to be carried off the court. He returned to the bench in the second half with a heavy brace on his left knee. Per the university, Shavar will have an MRI on his knee on Saturday. Post-game, Phil Martelli said, "I have no idea. We'll get an MRI and see what it is. I'm not medical. I don't project what would happen or what could happen." While Martelli isn't projecting, and I'm not either, it certainly didn't appear to be a contact injury. And any time you have a knee injury that is non-contact, you fear an ACL.
With a sloppy half behind them, and facing a second half without their catalyst, the Hawks could have folded. They did the opposite. Chris Clover, who provided positive minutes off the bench tonight, nailed a three to tie things up at 39 with just under 15 minutes to play. A Fresh Kimble and-one at the 10:39 mark gave St. Joe's its first lead of the game, at 49-48, and from there we were on the see-saw. Back-to-back Jaren Sina threes gave GW a 57-53 lead, but as they did all night, the Hawks answered back. Chris Clover hit two in a row, including a pretty driving bank shot off the right glass, to tie it up at 57.
After a Yuta Watanabe three gave GW a 63-31 lead with 2:35 to go, Phil Martelli called a timeout to draw up a play. And draw up a play he did. Charlie Brown popped free of a screen at the top of the key and did what he does, bury a three. That three, followed a minute-and-a-half later by a ridiculous step-back three by Kimble as the shot clock expired, would do it for the Hawks. They beat GW for the third straight time, this time by a final score of 68-63.
It was a balanced effort for the Hawks tonight in the wake of Shavar Newkirk's injury. Fresh Kimble and Charlie Brown each scored 13, while James Demery had 9 points, 4 assists, and 4 boards off the bench, Chris Clover went 3-4 for 7 off the bench, and Nick Robinson finished with 8. Demery, in his return, was an absolute menace defensively, matched up with the 6'9, 240-pound Tyler Cavanaugh. James held the taller Cavanaugh to 4-20 shooting for just 10 points, well below his season average of 16.8.
On a night where the Hawks got a big conference win over George Washington and saw the return of James Demery from injury, Shavar Newkirk's knee injury is one of the takeaways. Main takeaways. However, this team, and this coaching staff, showed that they have lots of fight in them. And they beat a quality GW team tonight, overcoming injury and a double-digit deficit. Whatever the diagnosis for Shavar Newkirk is, this team isn't going down this season without a fight.null