The 2016 Atlantic Ten champions were honored prior to the St. Joseph's season opener Saturday night at Hagan Arena. This Hawks team, minus much of the firepower from the group that went 28-8, was set to play Toledo.
Nobody, including St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, really knew what to expect. The Rockets' star senior guard, Jonathan Williams had scored 1,129 points, while the 10 Hawks suiting up had combined for 1,349 points. If you totaled up all the averages for the returning St. Joe's players, it was just 26, not quite enough to be competitive.
It can safely be said the two-point-guard starting lineup was an early offensive success as Shavar Newkirk and Lamarr Kimble finished with 44 points between them, each getting career highs, Newkirk 28, Kimble 16. The Hawks needed every one of them.
After an incredible 25 second-half lead changes, the teams exchanging one-point leads just about the entire half, it was Newkirk's 8-foot pull-up in the lane with 46 seconds left that gave St. Joseph's a "giant" three-point lead that held up in their 77-76 win.
"He had 28 points?'' Martelli said in opening his remarks at the postgame news conference.
Newkirk and Kimble scored from the arc, at the rim, and from the free- throw line. Scoring was the coach's biggest concern. On this first night, he got it from the guys who got it to the scorers last season.
"Shavar was great,'' Kimble said. "He carried us.''
Newkirk remembers getting 38 at Cardinal Hayes High in the Bronx. He was a star there, a piece for two seasons at St. Joe's. His role has changed and he was always taking that last-minute jumper.
"I saw that the big man was sinking too much,'' Newkirk said. "We practice that pull-up jumper every day.''
When he was asked if he thought his point guards would score that much, Martelli smiled and said: "No, but I didn't envision them giving up whatever they gave up. . . . Since August, I knew that was the way we were going to play.''
Toledo (0-1) has been a very solid program under coach Tod Kowalczyk, winning 98 games over the previous five seasons.
James Demery made the first-half highlight play for the Hawks (1-0) when he took the ball the length of the court and finished with a flying dunk in traffic.
Toledo led, 41-40, at the break with Williams getting 12 of what would become 18 points. The Hawks played from behind almost the entire half, trailing by as many as eight, leading for just 47 seconds.
It was the point guard offense and Demery's late defense on Williams that made the difference.
"Coach always tries to put me on the best player, the guy who's trying to score,'' Demery said.
In a highly entertaining game in which defense was mostly a rumor, it was Demery's defense that gave Newkirk a chance for one final critical basket in a game the junior absolutely dominated.