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Hawks lose late lead, drop 8th straight

Saint Joseph's last win came on January 28th, but on Saturday afternoon at Saint Louis, that appeared destined to change. The Hawks held a 50-37 lead with 9:48 to play and the Billikens appeared to be on the verge of totally collapsing. Instead of celebrating an end to this losing streak at the final buzzer, the Hawks were left scratching their heads as James Demery went coast-to-coast for a lay-in at the buzzer, with the Hawks down 3.

St. Joe's could not have come out of the gate more flat Saturday afternoon at Saint Louis.  The Hawks didn't get their first field goal until 7:36 into the contest, at which point they had dug themselves a 12-1 hole.  That lead stretched to 20-8 before Charlie Brown and Chris Clover would hit back-to-back threes to pull the Hawks within 22-14. After trailing 20-8, the Hawks would go on a 17-2 run over the half's final 7:43 to take a 25-22 lead into the locker room.

Midway through the second half, St. Joe's freshman Charlie Brown hit threes on back-to-back-to-back possessions, over just 1:02 of game time, to give the Hawks a 49-38 lead.  The Hawks built that lead all the way up to 50-37 on two Brendan Casper free throws with 9:48 to play.  It appeared as if the Hawks were in total and utter control.  As we have seen countless times this season, that wasn't to be the case.  The Hawks would only score three field goals, including Demery's at the buzzer, over the final 9:48 of the game.  

Still, the Hawks were in total control, despite their offensive woes.  With 2:54 to play, their 13-point lead had been trimmed, but the Hawks still held a 58-53 lead.  Davell Roby and Mike Crawford hit back-to-back threes around two of the ugliest free throw misses you'll ever see, by Javon Baumann, and suddenly the Billikens had snagged a 59-58 lead. Out of a Phil Martelli timeout, Charlie Brown tried to split two Saint Louis defenders but instead turned the ball over. A Saint Louis bucket gave the Billikens a 61-58 lead and moments later, the Hawks had to foul Mike Crawford.  Crawford needed to hit just one free throw to put the game away, but he missed both.  

With five seconds remaining, James Demery took the ball coast-to-coast for the lay-up.  The problem, however, is that St. Joe's trailed by three points.  Demery's lay-up, which went through the net as the final buzzer sounded, did nothing but make the Billiens' victory a one-point win instead of a three-point win.  The Hawks clearly needed a three there, and had time to get one off.  It was one of the most bizarre end of game scenarios I've covered in the last ten years.

The loss was Saint Joseph's eighth in a row, and the season closes with Rhode Island at home, then Duquesne on the road.  St. Joe's will be underdogs in both of those contests.  This game was another head-scratcher.  For a myriad of reasons.

I am confused as to how the Hawks came out as flat as the did, allowing themselves to fall into a 12-1, then a 20-8 hole.  They went from down 20-8 to up 50-37.  That's a stretch where the Hawks outscored Travis Ford's bunch 42-17.  It was total domination.  Then to allow the Billikens to end the game on a 24-10 run is just as confounding.

There is a lot of hand-wringing to be done after this one and so much to analyze.  But for simplicity's sake, it can come down to free throw shooting.  And specifically to James Demery.  James went 4-10 from the line in this one, in a one-point game. James went 9-11 from the line Wednesday against Saint Bonaventure and seemed to have settled into a routine at the line.  Remember, he had the home game against Fordham, the double overtime game, where he shot 6-15 from the line.  After Saturday's loss at St. Louis, you can really look at two games where his free-throw shooting woes came back to haunt the Hawks in a very serious way.

Another free throw issue Saturday was Javon Baumann being in the game down the stretch, and being fouled with the Hawks up 58-56.  Baumann, a 41% free throw shooter, missed his two free throws about as badly as you could, and instead of building a 3 or 4 point lead, it remained two, and the Billikens proceeded to go right down the court a bury a three to put them up 59-58.  Javon's mere presence on the court at that point, due to his free throw shooting, confused me at the time. The fact that his free throw shooting percentage is 41% as a 5th year senior is an entirely different story.

This was always going to be a difficult season.  And it got harder when Shavar Newkirk went down for the season with the torn ACL.  And it got even worse with Fresh Kimble's season-ending injury against Mass two weeks ago.  Still, there are games this year that the Hawks had in the bag.  Saturday was just another example.

The Hawks led by 13 with 9:48 to play, then 5 with under 2 minutes to play.  At Saint Bonaventure earlier this season, the Hawks led by 18 with 14 minutes to go.  Then by 13 with 6 minutes to go.  They blew that lead too.  The Hawks led Fordham at home by 15 with 10 minutes to play.  Then by 11 with 3:44 to play.  They blew that lead too, eventually losing on a three at the buzzer in double overtime.  

That's three games where the Hawks had double-digit leads in the final 10 minutes of action and allowed it to slip away.  Granted, this is a tough year and was always going to be.  St. Joe's is now 10-18, and 3-13 in league play.  Of those three games discussed above, say St. Joe's had won two of them? 12-16 overall, and 5-11 in league play, isn't quite the bottoming-out type of season as this has turned into.

Prevent offense.  Missed free throws.  An inability to get a stop when need be.  Lack of depth and guard play. Again, there are so many reasons for these woes, in addition to the injuries.  And we will have all offseason to talk about them.  For now though, Saturday's loss seemed to be both excruciatingly brutal and all-to-familiar this year.  

Rhode Island hammered the Hawks by 30 earlier this season, when the Hawks had Lamarr Kimble.  Now they're coming into Hagan Arena Wednesday, fresh off a win over VCU and with a realistic path to an NCAA tournament bid.  It certainly won't be easy on Hawk Hill Wednesday night.  

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