Saint Joseph’s has posted their best record (22-5) through 27 games since the 2003-04 season, when they went undefeated (27-0). Much of their success this season can be attributed to their play on the defensive end, where the Hawks lead the A-10 in field-goal percentage defense and three-point-field-goal percentage defense. On the offensive end, they’ve also seen their production rise, as their points per game average has risen by 15 points this season.
Team-captain DeAndre’ Bembry and senior forward Isaiah Miles, who leads the team in scoring with 17.8 ppg, have garnered much of the attention this season. This is to be expected as Bembry is an NBA hopeful with a wide range of skills and Miles is having a breakout year, averaging career highs in points, rebounds, and field-goal percentage.
As good as Bembry and Miles have been for the Hawks this year, the team would not be where it is without the leadership and scoring of senior Aaron Brown.
Brown spent two seasons at West Virginia University before transferring to Saint Joseph’s for the 2013-14 season, in which he sat out of because of NCAA transfer rules. The Darby, PA native not only changed schools but traveled closer to home as a result.
“It’s always great to be closer to home with family because you get a lot more support,” Brown said in a recent interview with The Empire. “You just have that home vibe. It’s always good to be able play in front of family and friends.”
After primarily serving as the Hawks’ sixth man last season, Brown spent the offseason preparing for the 2015-16 campaign by continuing to improve his ball handling, shooting, and physical strength, which have all been central in his training regimen in the past.
As a result, Brown has started in every game this year and his offseason preparation has helped him deal with the adjustment from sixth man to starting shooting guard.
“I wouldn’t say it was a tough adjustment because I’ve prepared myself,” he pondered. “It’s definitely been different because [as a starter,] you're going against somebody very talented every night. It’s definitely a kind of an adjustment for me.”
Brown switched roles with current sixth man James Demery, who started in 29 games last season and has become a consistent spark off the bench for coach Phil Martelli. The two flip flopped roles at the beginning of the season, which has brought both players a lot of success. The play of Demery has not surprised the former Penn Wood high school standout.
“He's just a lot more confident this year,” he said. “Confidence goes a long way so, he’s been playing really well with all the confidence he has.”
More often than not this season Brown has been a consistent contributor for the Hawks. In 17 of Saint Joseph’s 27 games, Brown has scored 8 or more points, while shooting about 49% from the field. Furthermore, he has attempted and made more three-pointers so far this season than he did all of last year. As a result, his three point percentage has risen from about 29% to 36% and has placed him third among team leaders with 30 or more attempts from three, only trailing forward Papa Ndao (39%) and Miles (38%).
That being said, Brown has had lackluster performances throughout the season. Against Florida, in late November, he shot 0-2 from the field and recorded one point off of a free throw. Then again, in early December against Princeton, he didn’t tally a point in 24 minutes of play.
Brown did rebound after both of those outings. He scored 8 points against Old Dominion after facing Florida and 11 points against Big 5 rival Temple following the Princeton game.
Brown’s ability to bounce back after these performances was present until a six-game stretch from January 24th to February 10th, where he shot a mere 31% from the field. His worst outing during this stretch came against Fordham on February 6th, when he scored 0 points in 19 minutes.
Although Brown scored 5 points in the ensuing game against George Washington, his performance against La Salle three nights later (11 points, 5-7 FGM-A) was the true indicator that he had moved on from the rough stretch of games.
Coach Martelli spoke openly about Brown’s play of late after the Hawks’ 21st win of the year.
“It’s about time,” coach Martelli said in his postgame press conference after the victory against La Salle on February 13th. “Aaron Brown will tell you. His last past six games, he’s shot 26% from two, 30% overall, he dropped averaging 5 points a game. And yesterday when we were warming up, I told him ‘you gotta get going’ and he said, ‘I got you.’”
Martelli emphasized the importance of layups in college basketball as a whole and more specifically for Brown.
“It can swing momentum, it’s not two points,” he said again of the La Salle game. “It’s more than that and I think he did a nice job.”
Brown has taken Martelli’s advice to heart. In his last three games, he's averaging 12.3 points and shooting 50% from the field.
In an upset win over #15 Dayton on February 17th, Brown recorded 14 points for the Hawks, only two points behind Bembry, who scored a team-high 16 points. His efforts helped propel the team to major win against a ranked opponent.
When Brown is making his shots and scoring in double figures, the entire team benefits from it. In every game he has scored 5 or more field goals, the Hawks have won this year. He adds another dimension to the table: a strong lefty, that can take the ball to the rim, but additionally knock down the 20-footer.
He understands that he must trust the process and continue to get better. He believes that if he continues to work on being consistent and trusting the process, he’ll be fine.
Furthermore, the communication between Martelli and Brown shows the growth in their relationship since the six-foot-five guard enrolled at SJU.
“It’s been great. Just being able to get to know him a lot better,” remarked Brown.
Through ups and downs this season, Brown has remained a leader on this team and during his time with the Hawks, Brown has been sought out by younger teammates for advice.
“It’s always good to give them advice,” added the senior, “because I’ve been through everything they're going through so, for me to be able to share that with them is always helpful.”
Thanks to his success, Saint Joseph’s has impressed many people around the country and he hopes for that to continue.
“We’re surprising a lot of people,” Brown added. “So we just want to continue to surprise a lot of people and keep playing the way we are.”
Brown plans to graduate from SJU in the spring and will figure things out from there. Until then, Hawks fans will hope for Brown to continue on this recent hot stretch and continue to lead, even if times get tough.
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
As of Monday, February 15th, Joe Lunardi had Saint Joseph’s (21-4, 10-2) as a ten-seed facing Providence in the first round of the East bracket in his latest edition of Bracketology. The team also has the 28th most points in the latest AP Poll. With just a few games left in the regular season, the Hawks are in prime position for a tournament bid, but it is not yet a guarantee.
What’s exciting is not that a local team could be playing on a national stage, or that little old Saint Joseph’s could be going up against basketball goliaths like Oklahoma or Kansas. What’s exciting is that once this team reaches the tournament, they have the potential to go far. But they’ve got to get there first.
A home game against a ranked Dayton team is without a doubt their biggest remaining battle. The Flyers are first in the conference (21-3, 11-1) and ranked 12th in RPI. Two other remaining home games are in store for the Hawks against Saint Louis and Duquesne. On the road, the Hawks still have games against Davidson, Massachusetts, and St. Bonaventure.
Saint Louis and Massachusetts are each in the bottom five of the Atlantic 10 standings and combine for a 19-29 overall record. Although nothing’s guaranteed, Saint Joseph’s should be heavily favored in both of these games. Therefore, they become must-win games. A loss in either of these matchups could be the difference-maker in the fate of Saint Joseph’s and would make it difficult for them to prove they belong come March.
The good news is that the idea of these games being “trap games” is unlikely for the Hawks. St. Joe’s demolished a very poor La Salle team on Saturday, just a couple of days before the Dayton game. Coach Martelli was adamant that the team wasn’t at all looking ahead to Dayton prior to the match against La Salle. “There are some guys in that locker room that had no idea we play Dayton on Wednesday,” he said. They focused on their next opponent and that’s it.
Duquesne, Davidson, and St. Bonaventure are all important games in which St. Joe’s will most likely be favored in again, but will be more challenging contests. Still, the Hawks must win these games. Although it may not bump them from the tournament, a loss would push SJU back a bit in the rankings. Multiple losses in this set of games and the Hawks will be watching from home.
A win against Dayton, who is in the midst of a nine-game win streak, is key. While a loss against the Flyers wouldn’t kill the Hawks, a win would absolutely solidify a tournament berth and put St. Joe’s atop the Atlantic 10. Lunardi said earlier that, “[St. Joe’s] would have a lot more room to err with a win on Wednesday [against Dayton].”
Essentially, with a win over 15th-ranked Dayton, St. Joe’s would all but guarantee itself a trip to the tournament, regardless of what happens in the other games, according to ESPN’s Bracketologist.
Coaches and players have bought into the idea that the Hawks are worthy of a tournament game. Isaiah Miles said, “I think we deserve it. No doubt. We don’t want to focus on that too much, but me personally? I think we deserve it. I think we’re good enough.”
We’ll find out Wednesday night if the Hawks are good enough. The last time St. Joe’s faced a ranked opponent was Villanova in December. Despite losing by 14, the Hawks kept the game close and remained competitive for the first 35 or so minutes. Villanova is now the top-ranked team in the country.
The SJU-Dayton game is also for first place in the Atlantic 10. The last time the A10’s first place team didn’t make the tournament was 2005. George Washington, who won the conference tournament and earned an automatic bid, was the only team that year to represent the conference. It was actually Saint Joseph’s who finished first in the league, but did not make the tournament.
The moral of the story is that for ten straight years now, the A10’s first place team has made the tournament – more evidence that a win over Dayton wound indeed solidify a tournament trip.
Photo: AP Photo/Chris Szagola
La Salle came into today's game on a 9 game losing streak looking to find some traction after a couple below average showings. But Saint Joseph’s wouldn’t let that happen, as the Hawks led for the entire game and by as many as 30. La Salle was able to cut it to 12 in the early portion of the second half, but they could not find a way to stop the potent scoring punch of Saint Joseph’s.
What went well?
DeAndre’ Bembry got off to a hot start, scoring all of his 13 points in the first half, and additionally finishing with 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal. James Demery also gave the Hawks a spark off the bench with great defensive pressure as he finished the game with 17 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 steals. However, it is hard to pinpoint a star for the Hawks, as this game was a complete team effort. Not only did they out rebound the Explorers 42-28, but they also limited themselves to 8 turnovers.
Although they could not sustain it for majority of the game, La Salle was able to chip at Saint Joseph’s lead for much of the first half and in the early portion of the second half. This was thanks to some streaky shooting by Cleon Roberts, who was able to knock down 3 three pointers and finish the game with 17 points. Freshman Karl Harris also compiled 12 points and shot 50% from the field. They were the mere bright spots in a game that will be tough to swallow for the Explorers.
What didn’t go well?
On double teams in the post, Saint Joseph’s got lost a couple times, resulting in open shots for the Explorers. Rotations need to be quicker for the Hawks if they want to compete for an Atlantic-10 championship.
La Salle could not find a way to slow down the Hawks, as they allowed them to score 88 points and shoot 51.7% from the field. Coach John Giannini tried everything he could to fix the problem. The Explorers began the game in zone and later transitioned to straight up man defense to many different variations of man defense. But nothing could work for the squad as the Hawks were able to hit 70 points by the 8 minute mark in the second half.
Saint Joseph’s hosts Dayton, while La Salle faces St. Bonaventure. Both games are scheduled for next Wednesday. The Hawks look forward to a gigantic test against the Flyers, who are the top team in the A-10. Likewise, a win against 16-6 St. Bonaventure could give La Salle some confidence going into the A-10 tournament.
-Benjamin Simon & William Derry
After helping Northside Christian Academy win its third straight NCISAA 2A boys basketball title his senior year, James Demery began his collegiate career with the Saint Joseph’s Hawks and was thrusted into Phil Martelli's starting lineup.
Martelli favored the freshman over West Virginia University transfer Aaron Brown, who sat out the 2013-14 season because of NCAA transfer rules and would ultimately become the Hawks’ sixth man for the 2014-15 campaign.
Despite starting in the majority of the games, the Williamston, NC native did not have the freshman year he would have liked. Although, he averaged 6.7 points, 3.5 rebounds and 1 assist, he shot 37% from the field, 18% from three and turned over the ball 44 times.
This is not to say that Saint Joseph’s did not have problems as a whole last season converting from beyond the arc, where they shot 30% and only had two players average double figures in points, which led to their below .500 record of 13-18.
It was clear at the end of season that Demery would have to improve his shooting efficiency if he wanted to factor into Martelli’s future plans.
On October 29th, Saint Joseph’s announced that head coach Phil Martelli had agreed to a contract extension. This happened to be on the same day as Saint Joseph’s Men's Basketball Media Day.
The four-time Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year was of course asked about the aforementioned contract extension, last year’s disappointing season, and the outlook on the upcoming one but the questions that garnered the most heartfelt responses were about Demery.
“How’s Demery?” asked one reporter.
“Better, he’s better,” Martelli said. “There’s no kid that I’ve ever had that you want to root for more.”
Martelli then went on to shed more light into his relationship with the six-foot-six forward.
“He blesses me more than the Pope blessed the people of Philadelphia when he was here in September. He’s always blessing me and I appreciate that and I need the blessings but I do tell him that I’ll handle my relationship with God, if you would just make a few more baskets, I’d feel a lot better,” Martelli said with a chuckle. “But he’s a beautiful, beautiful kid and he’s clearly better this year.”
The obvious but more pertinent question was asked next. The one that had fans worried from the jump about Demery.
“How’s his shot?” asked another reporter.
“Better, it’s better,” Martelli said. “Your not gonna walk out and say, I think that Ray Allen just walked into the gym or Langston Galloway. But it’s better and the thing that I like is, he’s shooting it thinking it’s going in, last year he shot it and thought it wasn’t going in. So everybody else thought, well that’s not going in and it didn’t go in.”
Before Martelli could move onto a different topic during Media Day, he was asked one final question about Demery.
“He blesses you, like actually blesses you?” asked one surprised reporter.
“He blesses me,” said Martelli. “He’s always telling me God bless you Coach, God bless you. That’s pretty cool.”
Martelli’s statement has proved to hold true for Demery, who has become the Hawks’ sixth man this season, while Brown has moved into the starting five.
Despite not starting this time around, through 21 games in his sophomore campaign, Demery is averaging 9.2 points and 4 rebounds. His field goal and three point percentage have increased to 50% and 29% respectively, while his turnovers per game have decreased to 0.8, an impressive set of improvements.
Since Demery started coming off of the bench, his minutes have gone down but that hasn’t stopped him from making more three pointers this season than he did all of last season on less attempts.
Not even Martelli could have thought that Demery would turn it around this quickly, but the same could be said about the entire team.
The Hawks are currently 18-3 overall, with a 7-1 conference record. They still only shoot 31% from three and have a mere two players that average double figures in points but with the emergence of senior Isaiah Miles, who averages 17.8 points, the Hawks have found a second legitimate scoring threat to pair with star DeAndre’ Bembry.
For Demery, his new role as sixth man has suited him well thus far and the Hawks hope that he can continue to give them a spark off the bench.
His transition from starting shooting guard to sixth man has allowed him to focus on the quality of his shot attempts rather than the quantity, which in turn has boosted his confidence shooting the ball and in his overall game.
Not only has the sophomore been a spark off the bench for the Hawks this season but Martelli has been able to rotate him in for either Brown or Bembry and not have to worry about a huge drop in production with his offensive rating per 100 possessions rising by 28 points this season. His added consistency is a tribute to his unique size and skill set.
On the offensive end, he uses his quickness to blow by bigger defenders and get to the rack. He additionally applies his 6-foot-6 frame to exploit smaller defenders. But his lengthy wingspan is most important on defense. His skillset makes him versatile and unique, with the ability to cover multiple positions. He can cover guards because of his quickness. He can also cover big men because of his length. This defensive punch is important because he can challenge the opposing team’s best offensive players, which allows Bembry to take a quick breather on that end.
With all that being said, Saint Joseph’s still has ten more regular season games left, in addition to the Atlantic 10 conference tournament in early March. In order to come away victorious, they will need for Demery to continue to add that energy off of the bench.
Hopefully this season will serve as a building block for him and propel him into the starting lineup next year but until then, Demery will continue to bless coach Martelli off the court as well as on it now, with baskets.
Photo: Sideline Photos, LLC
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament