St. Joe's found itself in a close game with Duquesne but got the best game yet from freshman Christ Essandoko to avoid the upset.
Coming into the season, there was plenty of optimism regarding St. Joe's Basketball, thanks to several star guards. But in my mind, the biggest x-factor to the Hawks was Christ Essandoko, a 7'0 and 280-pound center and redshirt freshman.
However, we've been waiting to see the big outings from him, as Essandoko was dealing with injuries. He's been getting into game shape more and more, playing 22 minutes and scoring 13 points in the recent win over La Salle. But it was against Duquesne where he truly had his big moment, from start to finish.
It was clear that the Dukes, who has one of the biggest frontcourts in the Atlantic 10, had no answer for him. Whether it was Dusan Mahorcic, David Dixon, or Chabi Barre, Essandoko had the advantage every time. The freshman center had 15 points at the halftime break, including a trio of made three-pointers. Coming into the game, he had made just 4/16 from deep.
Essandoko only scored six second half points but it ended up being enough for St. Joe's, who held on for the 71-69 win, thanks to a Cameron Brown putback.
Against a Duquesne team without its best player (Dae Dae Grant), the Hawks needed this victory. It allowed them to avoid falling to 1-4 in league play and as Coach Billy Lange said after the game, they're "not out of the regular season title race just yet".
In what ended up being a rare off-day from the guards outside of Lynn Greer in the second half, the Hawks were able to win a key game, thanks to the inside play. If Essandoko can do that against Duquesne's frontcourt, he can do this against just about everyone else.
St. Joe's will need that this upcoming week, as they take on UMass and St. Bonaventure, another pair of teams with good frontcourts, on the road. If Essandoko can keep these performances up, the Hawks could very well win those two.