SPOKANE, Wash. — Maybe the St. Joseph’s Hawks were just meant for late night. Over three nights inside Spokane Arena, the Hawks played two basketball games that could go down as something close to March Madness classics.
Just when it appeared the Hawks were moving on to Anaheim, Calif., and the NCAA’s Sweet 16, a couple of Oregon Ducks 3-pointers changed the whole thing and took away the dream scenario back on Hawk Hill.
The final Sunday night goes down as 69-64.
The Hawks had held it together just enough in the first half to survive to the second, and the paths that had been closed were back open for business in the usual ways.
This Hawks group did more than merely fight back. For a possession or two, the Hawks seemed to have it under control, up 58-51 with 5 1/2 minutes left.
The reason Oregon is the top seed in the NCAA West Regional isn’t because the Ducks shoot particularly well or score their points with some complicated offense. They are athletic and they are relentless.
This 28-8 Hawks team was special because the puzzle parts fit together so seamlessly, a miracle in itself since these were mostly the same guys who had won 13 games last season. They return to Hawk Hill on Monday with the second highest victory total in school history, and the greatest one-year improvement in school history.
Even in the last minute, the Hawk still had a shot, down three with the ball, 23.5 seconds. But Hawks star DeAndre’ Bembry lost his grip on the ball and when Isaiah Miles dove into a scrum, he hit an Oregon body before he could get to the ball.
After halftime, St. Joe’s drew first blood, got within a bucket. As they kept it close, they got better looks than they’d found in the first half, except the shots weren’t falling. Isaiah Miles didn’t have it going. Oregon took a 10-point lead. That went away quickly. Bembry got to the foul line. Shavar Newkirk showed why he was in there. Miles made a nice spin move. James Demery scored inside.
When the Hawks moved the ball around and finally found what they wanted, Miles alone on the right wing, he buried the shot, his first made jumper, tying the game at 45 with just a little more than 10 minutes left.
Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble, pride of Neumann-Goretti, came off the bench for Newkirk stretching his arms and chewing his gum. Kimble had taken three shots in the first half and missed them all. His first possession this time, the ball went to him in the right corner and Kimble buried the 3-pointer for the first St. Joe’s lead of the game, just more than 8 minutes left. Right after Kimble pulled off one of his crafty moves, faking a pass with his eyes, keeping the ball for a layup.
Even at halftime, how the Hawks were still within 32-27 was something of a mystery. Even the fact that Oregon had shot just 33.3 percent and made just 2 of 13 3-pointers didn’t fully explain it. Foul trouble forced Martelli to jerry-rig a lineup together that certainly wasn’t Plan A.
For a few late first-half possessions, the Hawks had both their point guards with both their backup inside players, plus DeAndre’ Bembry. St. Joe’s was just barely hanging on. That five-point deficit was absolutely a best-case scenario.
Miles, Friday night’s game-winning hero, sat on the bench holding a towel for over 10 minutes of the first half. He’d picked up two quick fouls at the offensive end. Late in the half, Aaron Brown sat next to Miles after his third foul. Brown had been keeping St. Joe’s afloat offensively.
Somehow, with Bembry and Miles combining for four points, the Hawks got into the locker room down by five. It seemed like even when St. Joe’s found an open lane for either a jumper or all the way to the rim, some Duck would appear out of nowhere and change the equation. Oregon had five blocks by halftime.
St. Joe’s average eight turnovers a game and had 10 by halftime. The good news for the Hawks was that they weren’t open floor turnovers. Oregon only had one steal. Oregon had only three turnovers but the points off turnovers were six for Oregon, five for the St. Joe’s.
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