Saint Joseph's forward Taylor Funk dribbles past Princeton guard Aaron Young at Hagan Arena.
(Saint Joseph's Athletics)
In the first half of Saint Joseph’s home opener against Princeton, the Hawks struggled with containing junior guard Devin Cannady.
The Tigers’ Cannady put on what head coach Phil Martelli called a “shooting exhibition.”
In Princeton’s season opener at Butler, Cannady scored 12 points, shooting 57% from 3-point range and 40% from the floor. The team’s home opener against BYU featured an even better scoring night. The Mishawaka, Indiana native scored 19 points while shooting 46% from the floor. Cannady’s scoring numbers only went up against St. Joe’s in the first half
The 6-foot-1 Ivy League star scored 17 points in the first half, shooting a 83% from 3-point range--nailing five of six threes in the half--and made it rain from the field, shooting 75%. Cannady’s excellent shooting gave Princeton momentum, despite being down a point going into the second half.
Part of his success in the first half can be attributed to him breaking down the Hawks man-to-man defense. The former All-Ivy honorable mention was being guarded by Shavar Newkirk, who struggled to contain Cannady. This would force one of the forwards to come help out. When someone arrived to assist, they’d be too late. Cannady would’ve already knocked a 3, further pulling apart coach Martelli’s defense.
Because of Cannady’s offense, Princeton had the clear upper hand in the first half, leading for over 18 minutes. In addition to Cannady, senior guard Amir Bell produced 9 points, 5 boards, 2 assists, and 1 steal.
St. Joe’s numbers were the exact opposite coming into the second half.
In the first half, star guard Shavar Newkirk, who put up 16 points, five assists, a steal and a block against UIC (11/13), had an underwhelming 3 points and shot 33% from the field. James Demery had an uncharacteristically quiet first half as well. The former All Big-5 second team recipient went from scoring 25 points, collecting 5 rebounds, and notching 3 steals in the game before, to scoring no points and turning the ball over twice in the first 20 minutes against Princeton.
And then suddenly, the momentum changed completely.
After Cannady made a layup and hit a three to tack on 5 points to his 17 from the first half, he seemed to leave the gym. The former McDonald’s All-American nominee would have a 15 minute period where he would take just three shots (making none).
The adjustment that changed the tides of the game was the Hawks’ switch to a variation of a matchup 2-3 zone. This would allow the Hawks’ guards to attack Princeton’s shooting, playing man-to-man defense to an extent, but always having support from the forwards if the Princeton guards were to drive. This defense forced Princeton to go from shooting 41% from 3-point range to shooting just 36% in the second half.
Five percent might not look like the Hawks adjusted anything major. However, Princeton made three less threes in the second half which results in nine possible points left on the table. Those nine points would’ve made a huge difference, cutting St. Joe’s lead to just four points instead of 13.
This sudden lack of scoring caused Princeton to completely unravel.
Princeton would commit 11 fouls, shoot barely over 40% from the field, and 20% from 3-point range. Seeing Princeton scrambling to come up with points allowed the Hawks to become much more comfortable, as opposed to constantly trying to get the ball out of Cannady’s hands. This calmness was exhibited the most by the Hawks’ leading scorer, Taylor Funk.
Coach Martelli praised Funk’s ability to stay calm in his home opener, especially when some newcomers find themselves “in awe or enamored with being at home. Sometimes you can play at home and you can get really mental.” This calm and collected demeanor allowed Funk to knock down 3 after 3.
The freshman forward seemingly traded places with Devin Cannady, scoring 15 points in the half and shooting 100% from the field and from three-point range. In fact, Bernard Blount is the only other player in St. Joe’s history to score more points than him in his first three games. His scoring forced Princeton’s defense to focus their energy on stopping a red hot Taylor Funk.
This opened the door for fellow forwards James Demery and Pierfrancesco Oliva to catch fire.
Demery scored 10 points, shooting 42% from the floor--a huge improvement from shooting 33% in the first half. He even racked up 3 rebounds and a steal.
Oliva scored 7 points after scoring just 1 point in the first half. Oliva helped the Hawks pull away from Princeton, dunking home a bucket that would put St. Joe’s up four. Then, he hit a layup to increase the Hawks’ lead to 7. Finally, he punctualized St. Joe’s lead by laying the ball up and increasing the Hawks lead to 15.
The Hawks play next in the Wooden Classic in Fullerton, California. The Hawks are riding a two game win streak in which both opponents were beaten by over ten points. If the Hawks can continue to score at a similar--if not better--rate than they already are, they will have more than a chance win something more rewarding than turkey.
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament