St. Joe's loses winning opportunity

AS THE SAINT Joseph's players were in layup lines, Shavar Newkirk, Chekko Oliva and Lorenzo Edwards were seated just beyond the sideline, observers who should have been warming up before Tuesday's game against George Mason, but could not.

Oliva, a starter for the 2016 Atlantic 10 champions, was declared out for the season before it ever started because of a knee injury. Edwards played four minutes in the second game of the season, but has been ruled out for the rest of the season, shoulder surgery pending. Newkirk, the team's best player, off to a great start in his junior season, tore his left ACL on the final play of the first half in the A-10 opener Dec. 30 against George Washington. He will have surgery in a few weeks. He is gone for the season, too.

So, how exactly was St. Joe's a point ahead of George Mason at Hagan Arena with less than two minutes left in the game? Well, James Demery, Lamarr "Fresh" Kimble and Charlie Brown are still very good players who, in games when they are all scoring, will give the Hawks a chance against many league opponents.

But they stopped scoring in those final minutes and so did everybody else, George Mason scoring 13 of the game's final 17 points to win, 75-67.

SJU coach Phil Martelli is a bottom-line, next-man-up pragmatist. Even though his undermanned team had a chance, he really did not like how the Hawks played.

"We had a really good offensive practice (Monday) and had nothing," Martelli said. "We were just pulling and prodding each possession down. That's not successful for us."

SJU (8-7, 2-2 A-10) played from behind the entire second half until Demery's and-1 layup with 2:50 left gave them the lead. The Big Three had 49 of St. Joe's 61 points.

That might have been enough against some league teams, but not against George Mason (12-5, 2-2) which won its final nine non-conference games, already has more wins than all of last season and has the seemingly impossible-to-stop 6-2 power guard Marquise Moore.

Moore scored his 1,000th point just before Demery's three-point play. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists and four steals. It was his 10th double-double of the season, incredible for a small guard who also had a triple-double Dec. 10 at Penn. He just became the second player in Patriots history to surpass 1,000 points, 500 rebounds and 300 assists.

"He's a great scorer," Demery said admiringly. "He's able to get into your body, create contact."

Kimble (18), Brown (17) and Demery (16) ended up combining for 51 points, but they also had 10 of St. Joe's 14 turnovers. The team's five assists stood out and not in a good way.

"That's bad basketball," Martelli said. "That's the right number to look at. We overdribble and we need some playmakers. We need guys who are confident enough to make a play. That doesn't mean take a shot and we had a lot of that tonight."

Brendan Casper was solid off the Hawks' bench again with 10 points. But George Mason shot 60.9 percent in the second half while scoring 44 points.

Still, with all that, St. Joe's actually had another chance to lead with 90 seconds left when Brown had a look at a three. It was not close and went out of bounds. The officials gave it to the Patriots, but thought it might have been tipped. The replay was inconclusive, so the original call stood.

"I went up for the jump shot and he tipped it, but clearly the ref didn't see it," Brown said.

Kimble played all 40 minutes because, without Newkirk, he is the only point guard.

"We're putting too much on Fresh," Martelli said. "He's not an 18-shot guy."

On this team these days, he has to shoot and he has to score. So do Demery and Brown. Tuesday night, even all that was not quite enough.

"I consider this a wasted opportunity," Martelli said. "You get 30 opportunities and we just wasted one."