It was looking every bit like an anti-classic. St. Joseph’s and Loyola, two fine Jesuit bastions of basketball, tied at 42-42, into the final seconds. If you didn’t see it, trust us, the score captured it. Shots were contested into the evening, and even if they weren’t, they were missed, often wildly.
Forget all that. Put down Dec. 22, 2018, Palestra, Philadelphia, as the Fresh Kimble game.
He saved us all from overtime. He also summed up a career. No good options, and the Hawks junior guard hadn’t made a three all game. So in the final seconds, when a three-pointer above the top of the key was all that presented itself, his feet maybe four feet beyond the line, a Loyola defender the obstacle directly in front, Fresh Kimble didn’t hesitate.
“It wasn’t exactly the way we drew it up,’’ said Hawks coach Phil Martelli. “But he’s got a little bit of freedom, because his heart’s bigger than his body.”
Maybe one shot that filled up the net with half a second left can’t knock away the other 2,399 seconds of a ballgame, but this was close.
The play before was a good setup, Kimble had split defenders and created his own lane to the hoop for a layup with 20 seconds left, for a three-point Hawks lead. Loyola hit a three with 12.7 seconds left to tie it. Then Kimble put the game out of its misery, 45-42 final.
Martelli spoke of “childish turnovers,” and practices that focused on defense, to try to get this season on the right track.
“We went back and broke everything down. There were days when he might not have taken any shots in practice,’’ Martelli said.
The coach praised Loyola’s defensive schemes, the switches -- “they were very aggressive in the switch.”
“Defensively, they made it rough for us,’’ Kimble said. “We had to respond. We had to play a different game; we like the game to go up and down.”
By the way, Loyola did all that without fouling, eight for the game, a couple intentionally, one in each half.
The last intentional foul was stopping Kimble with 7.5 seconds left. But that was Loyola’s sixth of the second half, so they couldn’t do it again without sending him to the line. So maybe that foul was a little too soon. Plenty of time to run something. Kimble said the play call was the same. When options didn’t appear, everyone in the building sensed what Kimble would do.
“The guys trusted me -- that’s the reason they voted me as captain,’’ Kimble said. “To take the biggest challenges, to try to do things like that.”
This was his first Palestra buzzer-beater, Kimble confirmed.
“I have had a lot of wins in here,’’ Kimble said. “I’ll just say that.”
Three Catholic League titles in the place at Neumann-Goretti, although Martelli mentioned the only one lost, in 2015 to Roman Catholic, breaking a six-year run for Kimble’s school.
“The most crushing defeat of your career, your senior year,’’ the coach went on. “All the Mummers from South Philly left you. Who was there to hug you?”
“You’re a liar,’’ Martelli said.
Those memories, he tries to bury, Kimble acknowledged.
“I was in the corner -- this guy says to me, ‘You better be there for Fresh,’ ‘’ Martelli said. “Like, ‘Who are you talking to? I’m not the dude sitting two stools down from you at McCuskers. I’m here for Fresh.’ “
A way he can judge players, Martelli said, is in their eyes after the tough ones, pain oozing out. Three Catholic League titles and four state titles, and the one Kimble missed, he came out of the locker room crying.
This all came up because Kimble’s Palestra history now includes three Catholic League titles, a loss, a bunch of St. Joe’s games, and an ugly one against a 2018 Final Four team, capped by a Fresh Kimble last-second three.
Afterward, someone in the hot room was looking for a water bottle to get to Martelli at the news conference.
“Can Fresh have one?” Martelli asked.