There was excitement around St. Joseph's basketball this season because all the players who missed so much time with injuries last season were returning. There was less talk about the freshmen — but, clearly, there should have been more.
If Taylor Funk from Manheim (Pa.) Central keeps this up much longer, he might even start. Fellow freshman Anthony Longpre' — from Quebec by way of a high school in the Baltimore suburbs — has started every game. They combined for 18 of the Hawks 32 first-half points Saturday night at Hagan Arena against Princeton. St. Joe's broke open a close game midway through the second half and won, 71-58.
The 6-9 Funk, a sensational three-point shooter who just happens to wear the No. 33 of another great Hawk shooter, Pat Carroll, had 23 points, with just one miss, against the Tigers and has 61 in the Hawks' first three games. Only Bernard Blunt (67 points) scored more in his first three for the Hawks. Funk is 13-for-22 from three-point range and his shot rarely touches the rim. The 6-10 Longpre' looks and plays much older than his class, his game understated but effective.
With senior Shavar Newkirk wearing a bulky brace on his left knee and still working his way to peak fitness 10½ months after tearing his ACL, fellow point guard Lamarr Kimble gone for the season after just one game with the same foot problem that cost him the end of last season, and Charlie Brown likely a week or more from playing as his fractured left wrist heals, the Hawks need their freshmen to be ready. And they are.
"The two freshmen have high IQs and the confidence to shoot the ball — not only my confidence, but their teammates' confidence,'' said St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli.
Funk has the classic release.
"When he raises up, I think the ball is going in,'' Martelli said.
If the Hawks (2-1) had all their weapons, they would have some serious firepower. Even at less than full strength, this team has a lot of offensive answers. Defense is another matter, so much so that Martelli has his team playing more zone than at any time in memory.
"I like balls going in the basket,'' Martelli said.
Princeton (0-3) lost a lot from its Ivy League championship team, but the Tigers still have the versatile Devin Cannady who lit up the Hawks for 17 points in the first half, but finally cooled off late on his way to 22.
St. Joe's shot 54.2 percent in the second half and committed just one turnover after having only three in the first half. Those were nice numbers, but Funk was the story.
"Oh my God, he can really shoot it,'' Newkirk said.
Yes, he can.
"Taylor Funk had a great game,'' Hawks senior James Demery said. "He's the man of the hour.''