- In a perfect world, you don't want your players to be taking their final exams on the day you have a game. But sometimes stuff happens. This time it happened to Saint Joseph's.
Due to a scheduling change at the university, this semester's finals were pushed back a week - after coach Phil Martelli had finalized the dance card for the season. That's why three Hawks, including second-leading scorer Lamarr Kimble, were taking finals Wednesday morning at the team hotel. About six hours later, they were taking the court at Jadwin Gym to face Princeton, which was playing at home for just the second time and first against a Division I opponent.
Martelli said what concerned him the most was getting off to a good start. So naturally the Hawks made eight of their first dozen shots and never trailed through the first 29 1/2 minutes, at which point they were up 10. Nearly seven minutes later they were down three, thanks to a 15-2 Princeton run in which they went without a field goal. But then they would score the next 11 points and go home with a 76-68 win.
"Here's the message I delivered to them on Monday," Martelli said. "I explained how it came about. I told them I was responsible, and I apologized to them and their families. And then I said, here's what we're doing to do: from that moment forward there was going to be basketball time and academic time. And on the board tonight I put, 'No distractions.' We didn't talk about it. It was like, 'OK, let's play through this.' "
And now they have a two-game winning streak, after losing the four before that. On Sunday they will be at Illinois State, their fourth straight road game.
"It's definitely a transition, to change your mind from education to basketball," said Kimball, whose final was in theology. "Coach did a good job keeping us levelheaded. At the end of the day we've all got to be mature about it. We're young. But now we're nine games in. So you're not so young any more."
So how did he do?
"It was pretty difficult, but I did good," he smiled. "I knew most of the questions. I think about a B."
He has another final Thursday morning, in sociology. The Hawks (5-4) are off until Friday afternoon's practice.
Shavar Newkirk had a team-high 19, but shot 4-for-16. Good thing he went 10-for-11 at the foul line, and also had eight rebounds and four steals. Kimball, his backcourt partner, had 17 points on 16 attempts. He too had eight boards and tied a career high with nine assists. Both played 37 minutes. Freshman forward Charlie Brown scored 12 to go with seven boards. Brendan Casper had eight off the bench. The Hawks had 24 more rebounds. Markell Lodge had a team-best nine.
The Tigers (4-5), who were playing their first game without the injured Henry Caruso (toe), last season's top scorer, made six more three-pointers and had five fewer turnovers. But they missed three more freebies on three fewer attempts, including the front end of two one-and-ones, the second of which came with 59 seconds left, trailing by three. Four Tigers scored in double digits, led by Devin Cannady's 17.
"To me it's all crystallized by Charlie Brown, who missed a wide-open three from the corner," Martelli said. "It might have hit the state line. But he came back and hit the one that put us up one, a hard-dribble pull-up (with 2:59 left) . . . We did a lot of good things. We'll pick it back up on Friday. We can catch our breath a little bit."
Until then, they can study something besides X's-and-O's.
"We knew (Princeton) was going to make a run," Kimble said. "It just happened to come late. We never doubted ourselves. We've got hit like that in every game. We had to take that extra step, buckle down. It wasn't anything we hadn't been through before. It's always about moving forward. The next possession's a different play."
Just another kind of test.