The Hawks have had some serious trouble at the end of games this season. In their match against Florida, the score was at one point tied at 62 before the Gators walked with the win, 74-63. Against Temple, the Hawks held on to win 66-65, but that’s all they did – hold on. Some missed free throws and poor defense gave Temple life until the final buzzer sounded in overtime.
Even in their last time out, Saint Joseph’s led Illinois State by as many as 32 with less than 8 minutes to go. However, the Redbirds ended the game on a 23-5 run and lost by only 14. In that game, four of the thirteen turnovers Saint Joseph’s committed were in the last five minutes.
The Hawks even led Drexel in the season opener by as many as twelve with 2:34 remaining. In those final two and a half minutes, the Hawks were just 5-10 from the charity stripe despite shooting 79.3% in the game until then. This season, though, the free throw shooting hasn’t been significantly worse down the stretch in comparison to the rest of the game. The team’s free throw percentage in the first 35 minutes and in the final five minutes (and overtime when necessary) are within a few percentage points of each other. Overall, converting 72% of their foul shots is good enough to rank them 82nd in the country. That would be much improved from last year’s 61.5%, which ranked them 347th out of 351 total teams.
The improvement is definitely positive, but more work still needs to be done. In the first 35 minutes of each game, the Hawks are averaging .486 FT/min. After that time, they are averaging .873 FT/min. Close to double the amount of free throws down the stretch means that it’s imperative to hit foul shots in order to close games. Shooting under 69% at the end of games is quite frankly not good enough.
So who needs to step up?
Well, the guys that are taking those foul shots at the end of games. DeAndre Bembry, who’s in possession of the ball quite often at the end of games, is shooting just 67.9% from the line. He additionally missed two crucial free throws against Temple that almost lost them the game. Sophomore James Demery is also shooting a not so impressive 57% from the stripe this season. And then there’s Shavar Newkirk, who has missed three of his seven misses from the free throw line within the final minute of games.
Closing games is something that the Hawks must learn to do quickly, and that begins with free throws, but doesn’t end there. The defense must be stronger, the shot selection must be smarter, and the offense must take better care of the ball down the stretch as well in order to close out these games. The Atlantic 10 is a good conference with strong teams that will take full advantage of any mistakes made toward the end of a game, including missed opportunities for free points. With conference play on the horizon, resolving this issue must be toward the top of the Hawks’ priority list.
Photo: John Minchillo/AP file
-Saint Joseph's ends season with loss in first round of A-10 tournament against UMass