There is no better game to attend than a Big 5 game in the Palestra. The crowd is packed. The sound is unforgettable. The band is loud. It is one of the greatest collegiate athletic atmospheres in America.
On this upcoming Wednesday, January 20th, the Palestra will host back-to-back Big five matchups. La Salle and Temple will clash in the first game at 7 pm, while Penn and Saint Joseph’s will follow at 9 pm.
Here is our preview to the second of these matchups, Saint Joseph’s at Penn:
Saint Joseph’s is off to a 14-3 start and besides a three point loss against a tough VCU team, they have not had much trouble in A-10 conference play thus far. Led by all-around star DeAndre Bembry and their versatile leading scorer Isaiah Miles, the Hawks have built a solid resume and should be a top seed in the A-10 tournament come early March.
After starting the season 4-1, the Quakers have only won two of their last nine games. With first year head coach Steve Donahue at the helm and only four upperclassmen on the team, Penn has had trouble with consistency. Despite the dismissal of sophomore guard Antonio Woods due to academic reasons, Penn still has time to turn it around with Ivy League play just starting to get underway.
What to expect:
Expect a hardfought game, where both teams put their all on the floor. The Quakers came out and played their hearts out against a tough Princeton team. This is a squad that will not give up and will fight to the final buzzer. The same can be said about the Hawks, who rarely take possessions off. This is part of the reason why they are so good: the players are always attacking and putting pressure on opposing teams.
Key Matchup: Darien Nelson-Henry vs. Papa Ndao
Nelson-Henry is the leading scorer of his team and he will more than likely be matched up with Hawks’ big man Papa Ndao. The 6-foot-11 center from Penn is the heart and soul of the Quakers. When he is on, the team is on. If the Hawks and Ndao are able to contain Nelson-Henry and force someone else to beat them, they will have a good chance at winning the game. However, if the big man is able to get inside, Penn will thrive.
X-Factors: Darnell Foreman and Lamarr Kimble
With the loss of Antonio Woods, the Quakers need a guard to step up. Jake Silpe has done so, taking a lion share of the minutes at the point. Fellow freshman Jackson Donahue has additionally stepped in, putting up 16 points in their loss to Princeton. However, they will need more from the bench with their sudden lack of depth. Foreman looks to be that guy. He had 9 points in 11 minutes of play against Princeton and he seems like a player that can get hot. He could easily provide a much needed spark off of the bench against a strong Saint Joseph’s team.
Kimble, on the other hand, will likely be Foreman’s counterpart when they’re both in the game. The freshman from Neumann Goretti High School has done an admirable job controlling the second team, but they may need a little more out of him to push this Saint Joseph’s team to the top. They should expect to beat Penn, but if he is not able to push the tempo and put pressure on the Quakers when the starters are out, they may not be able to maintain the lead.
What Saint Joseph’s needs to do to win: Force the ball out of Nelson-Henry
As their leading scorer and most efficient offensive player, Saint Joseph’s will need to find a way to get the ball out of Nelson-Henry’s hands. If they allow the ball to get deep and do not double team, Nelson-Henry will have a field day. However, Saint Joseph’s does a great job of doubling the post and forcing turnovers. Nelson-Henry, on the other hand, is a great passer and could find ways to poke holes in the defense. The Hawks will need to find a way to force the game out of his hands by double teaming, but also recover quickly and ID shooters.
What Penn needs to do to win: Find a way to keep the game in the 50s or below.
If Penn wants a shot at the win, they will need to commit their energy to the defensive end. Considering the fact that SJU has done a great job with post players recently (forcing Rhode Island’s Hassan Martin to 7 turnovers, Fordham’s Ryan Rhoomes to 6 turnovers, and holding George Mason’s Shevon Thompson to 3-9 from the field), the Quakers will ultimately have trouble scoring consistently through Nelson-Henry. As a result, expect Penn to struggle posting a high number of points. Therefore, they will have to hunker down on defense and commit to holding the Hawks to less than 60 points.
Prediction: 65-44, Saint Joseph’s
Saint Joseph’s should win this one in a low scoring game. The Hawks have done a great job in their recent outings of forcing turnovers from back to the basket big men. Although Nelson-Henry probably will not turn the ball over much, he should have trouble finding the space to back down his defenders. Without former guard Antonio Woods, the Quakers should struggle to score consistently against an athletic, long, and disruptive Hawks defense. On the other side, Saint Joseph’s should be able to get to the basket, as they have much of the matchup advantages with Isaiah Miles, DeAndre’ Bembry, and Papa Ndao. However, expect the Quakers to come with a lot of energy and keep this one a game for the most part. You can question many things about this year's Penn team, but you cannot question their heart.
-Benjamin Simon and William Derry
“He walks around different. His shoulders are back, his head is high.” Coach Martelli says of senior forward Isaiah Miles. He does indeed have an air of confidence about him lately, and deservingly so.
Over the course of the last four games, Miles is averaging 25.3 points and 11.5 rebounds per game. Against Virginia Tech, Miles put up a career-high 36 points and 15 rebounds. He’s been a crucial part of the historically great start for Saint Joseph’s this season.
An 11-3 start has earned the Hawks three votes in this week’s AP poll. One of the big questions heading into the season was who was going to step up and give DeAndre Bembry some help on offense? No one has answered the call as well as Miles and as a result, Bembry has been able to play more within the offense.
Critics have often called Bembry’s scoring this season into question. His average isn’t quite as high as many had thought it would be by this point in the year. He’s additionally had several silent offensive first halves this season, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.
Thanks to the impressive emergence of Isaiah Miles, there’s much less pressure on Bembry to score. In fact, Bembry is taking less shots per game this year than he did last year. It’s not because he’s became less aggressive. It’s because he now has the freedom to let the offense come to him.
The Richmond game was the perfect example. Bembry was scoreless in this first half. Despite managing to total 16 points by the end, it didn’t seem like he was scoring much. In addition to six rebounds and six assists, the number at the end of the game is why Bembry’s scoring average shouldn’t trouble fans.
In that game, with the game tied at 73, DeAndre Bembry hit a step back jumper from about 18 feet away with his defender right in his face. He then proceeded to sky in for the rebound on the other end, get fouled, and hit both free throws to ice the game. Not to mention he intercepted Richmond’s inbound pass a second before the final buzzer sounded. Although Bembry wasn’t the team’s leading scorer, he contributed in every other facet of the game and stepped up offensively when he needed to. Thanks to Miles, he just doesn’t need to all of the time anymore.
VCU coach Will Wade says, "[Bembry's] a tremendous player. He's playing much more efficiently and [Saint Joseph’s] is playing really well with him and Miles."
The duo has led the team to a great start this season. The emergence of Isaiah Miles has helped take this team from a middle of the pack Atlantic 10 team to a very possible first round bye in the conference tournament.
As the Hawks delve into their Atlantic 10 schedule, it’s imperative that Miles continues to produce at a high rate, rebound consistently, and hit free throws. His 88.9% free throw percentage ranks him 20th of all Division I players in a category in which Saint Joseph’s generally struggles. Together, Bembry and Miles are leading this team to the level of national recognition.
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament