ATLANTIC CITY – Andrew Nicholson looked bigger than life and surely played that way.
The the 6-9, 250-pound Atlantic-10 Player of the Year used his speed and power to dominate St. Joseph's for the second time in a week-and-a-half and this time it meant the end of a quest for an NCAA berth.
By now everybody knows that Nicholson was the biggest reason why the Hawks were eliminated from the Atlantic-10 tournament. Nicholson had 25 points, 10 rebounds and four blocked shots as the Bonnies defeated the Hawks 71-68 at Boardwalk Hall. (He also had 32 points and 14 rebounds in a 98-93 double OT win on Feb. 29 over the Hawks).
On a day when the Bonnies shot 1-8 from beyond the arc, committed 11 turnovers compared to four for the Hawks, they needed a stellar effort from their best player to survive.
Now the Hawks hope to receive bid to the NIT on Sunday.
In truth, this was a St. Joseph’s team that we felt was an NIT team with a chance at the NCAA Tournament.
At 20-13, the Hawks have done well to improve on consecutive 11-win seasons and next year if they don’t make the NCAA Tournament it will be considered a major disappointment.
Not that the players and coach Phil Martelli weren’t feeling the pain.
“This hurts,” Martelli said. “It hurts.”
Martelli says that he never talked about the NCAA Tournament with his team.
“All we wanted to do was play tomorrow,” he said.
And Nicholson is the biggest reason why the Hawks aren’t playing tomorrow, but could see action in some next days, in the NIT.
What it showed is that players like C.J. Aiken and Ronald Roberts, both terrific defenders, will have to continue to put time in the weight room. The physical nature of Nicholson wore the Hawks down.
Still, the Hawks provided many exciting moments and if they get in the NIT, how they fare in that could be a forerunner to next season, where the expectations with an experienced team will be much higher.