Defense, Nivins and St. Joe's

When the winning score is 99-98, it is hard to talk about defense. But I thought the job St. Joe’s Garrett Williamson did on Duquesne’s Aaron Jackson Wednesday night at the Palestra was terrific.

Jackson was in the Atlantic 10’s top five in scoring, assists, steals and field goal percentage. In fact, he entered the game shooting 58.3 percent, one of the nation’s best shooting percentages for a guard.

Jackson did not score for the game’s first 24 minutes. He finished with just 10 points on 3-for-13 shooting. Williamson himself can’t shoot at all. But he fills up the stat sheet anyway. Against the Dukes, he had five rebounds, five assists, three blocks and two steals. And, after Tasheed Carr’s last-second shot was blocked, he grabbed the ball out of midair, put it up on the rim and gave Idris Hilliard a chance for his game winning follow at the buzzer.

The game itself was crazy. You can watch a lot of games without seeing a 27-point swing in a half. The Dukes led by 11 and then trailed by 16 at the half. It was 53-37 in the first half, 51-35 in the second and 11-10 in overtime.

Hawks coach Phil Martelli pronounced his star Ahmad Nivins the city Player of the Year after the game. Fans of Temple (Dionte Christmas) and Villanova (Dante Cunningham) probably were not pleased to hear the race was over.

Those who dislike Martelli wonder why he makes pronouncements like that. Others are glad he is not Andy Reid. If he has an opinion, he lets you know. I fall into the latter category. I like coaches and players who have an opinion and don’t mind sharing it with us and thus with you.

If I were voting today for Big 5 Player of the Year today, I would vote for Nivins. But the vote is based on the whole season. So, I shall wait.

If this were an MVP vote, I would go with Cunningham. He does everything right for the best team in town. If this were a vote for the best scorer and a player who can change games in an instant, I would vote for Christmas. But it is a vote for most outstanding. And that has definitely been Nivins who is putting up numbers that should get him some serious national notice.

Consider Nivins is fourth nationally in field goal accuracy (67.6 percent) and seventh in rebounds (11.3 boards). He also averages 20.5 points and had a career-best 34 against the Dukes. He also is averaging an almost-impossible 1.98 points per shot, making him the most efficient player in the country.

By the way, tomorrow night’s Palestra game between St. Joe’s and Penn is close to a sellout. There are some tickets left, but it will be the biggest crowd at the Palestra this season.