Going into last night's game at VCU, I would have said that you were out of your mind if you had told me that St. Joe's was going to score 81 points on the road at VCU. 81 points without Lamarr Kimble. Without Shavar Newkirk. Without Pierfrancesco Oliva. In a game where you were starting two true freshman, including a wing at the point guard position. In a game where the main piece off your bench was a three-year-walk-on-turned-scholarship-player. Not a chance.
But that's exactly what happened Tuesday night on the road at VCU. A starting lineup consisting of freshmen Nick Robinson and Charlie Brown, sophomores Chris Clover and Markell Lodge, and junior James Demery, found itself with a lead late in the first half on the road. Tied 44-44 late in the first half, VCU guard JeQuan Lewis connected on his fifth three of the game and then Samir Doughty hit a flagrant foul free throw to put the Rams up 48-44 at the half.
The Rams started the second half on a 7-0 run and things appeared to be trending in the direction of a blowout when Phil Martelli called timeout trailing 55-44 at the 17:39 mark. A Brendan Casper lay-up moments later, capping a 6-0 Hawk run, and St. Joe's had pulled within 55-50. That was the story of the second half. Every time VCU made a run and extended their lead to double-digits, St. Joe's clawed back in. A Hamdy-Mohamed lay-up for VCU gave the Rams a 72-62 lead, but again the Hawks surged back, using a 10-5 run to make it a 77-72 game with 2:50 to play.
To me, that brought us to the game's definitive moment. After Mo Alie-Cox missed the front end of a one-and-one, St. Joe's had the ball down two possessions. Nick Robinson was able to penetrate into the lane and had a floater that looked good on leaving his hands. It rimmed out, and Robinson compounded the problem by fouling Samir Doughty, who proceeded to go down the court and hit his two free throws. Had that floater gone down, the Hawks would have been within 77-74 with just over two minutes to play. Instead, it was 79-72 Rams, and the Hawks wouldn't really threaten further down the stretch.
The fact that it took a Herculean 34-point effort from JeQuan Lewis to beat the Hawks tells you quite a bit about the Hawks' resilience. St. Joe's battled the Rams for 40 minutes on the road. That being said, it was another loss in what has become an avalanche of losses for Saint Joseph's. St. Joe's is 2-9 in its last 11 and has lost 5 straight. They are now 10-15 on the year and 3-10 in Atlantic 10 play. It will be a battle in these last five games for the Hawks to stay out of the league's bottom spot.
There were positives from last night. Chris Clover tied a career-high with 21 points, and did so shooting 8-17 from the field and 4-4 from the line. He is such an interesting case study in that he's been terrific against La Salle and VCU, but then also went 6-28 (21%) in the three games leading up to the VCU game. There needs to be consistency there for the coaching staff to have faith in him heading into next season.
Freshman Charlie Brown continued his sensational play, likely cementing his status as Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. Charlie went 5-9 from the field, 3-5 from deep, and 6-9 from the line en route to his 19 points. He's averaged 17.4 points over his last five, and gone 19-38 (50%) from three during that stretch. I expected Charlie to be very good this season. I didn't expect him to be this good. His offensive skill set is tailor-made for the NBA. He's every bit of a long 6'6, can shoot it, and continues to develop his game off the bounce. I don't ever like to speak in hyperbole or be over-dramatic. But to me the question honestly isn't whether or not he's an NBA player, but when he's an NBA player.
Nick Robinson's stat line from Tuesday doesn't really wow you. And everything wasn't perfect. However, he did some things that stood out and impressed me. In the first half, he went 94 feet against the press and finished a finger-roll over Mo Alie-Cox. He also had a beautiful drive and kick to Charlie on the right wing for a three. For him to have 4 assists to 3 turnovers in a game like that on the road in a game where he was out of position and thrust into point guard duties? I was impressed. I think Nick has a role off the bench as a multi-positional guard moving forward. He needs to clean up the mechanics on his jumper, but his length and ability to get into the paint, coupled with a high basketball IQ, has me upbeat about his future.
James Demery had a double-double, with 17 points and 11 boards in just 30 minutes. It was his best game in a while. That being said, he also had six of the Hawks' 15 turnovers, which is just too high. Demery showed what he's capable of in transition though. He had a huge steal and two-handed jam in the first half. He was also able to get to the basket and to the line. He went 5-7 from the stripe too, which is hopefully a positive omen, as he has struggled mightily there this season, including going just 6-15 in that Fordham game.
VCU freshman Samir Doughty is a Philly native. It was impressive to see how he has matured since leaving the city and heading down to Richmond. Always a talented scorer, Doughty had 10 assists to go with his 10 points and 8 rebounds for the Rams. He is going to be a force in the Atlantic 10 for the next three years.
For the Hawks, it doesn't get any easier. They head to La Salle this weekend. A La Salle team likely looking to avenge their last-second loss on Hawk Hill on January 28th. Lamarr Kimble hit the game-winner in that 73-72 Hawk victory. This time, the Hawks are on the road and without Kimble.