Saint Joseph’s was down 37-32 with 2:45 left to go in the first half. The offense was sputtering and having trouble to crack Toledo’s lead. That was until junior James Demery made a game changing play that caused the crowd to reach one of its highest decibel levels of the night.
After freshman Charlie Brown nailed a long three, Demery stole the ball on the following defensive possession and ran past everyone on both teams for a huge dunk. He fell into the first row of the crowd, screaming with pride after such a game changing slam. It was a large momentum builder in the Hawks 77-76 victory over Toledo, as they had finally cut into the Rockets’ lead, bringing the game closer heading into halftime.
It was also a clear turning point for Demery, who began the game struggling offensively. After failing to convert two tough takes to the basket, missing a three pointer, and three turnovers, it was clear Demery was out of sync. It took until the 3:40 mark in the first half for Demery to score his first points, after a good cut and assist from sophomore guard Lamarr Kimble.
“It was the first game,” Demery said after the contest. “Everyone is nervous out there. Then in the second half, I said, ‘it’s time to pick it up.’”
Demery played a big offensive role in the second half, putting away the jitters. He came out attacking, scoring 6 points in the first 3 minutes of the second half, including a drive and dunk, energizing the team and crowd.
“I said ‘drive the ball to the basket,’ ” head coach Phil Martelli exclaimed. “‘You don’t have to show anyone that you’re a jump shooter. Drive the ball to the basket’...if you look at his plays in the second half, he was going to the basket. In the first half, his brain was racing. We just had to slow him down.”
Although he played a large role in their second half offensive performance, it was on the defensive end that Demery made his mark. While Shavar Newkirk kept scoring and Markell Lodge had monster blocks, Demery quietly won them the game. The 6-foot-6, 198-pound forward was asked to stick Toledo’s 6-foot-9, 240-pound big man Steve Taylor, Jr. Taylor, a transfer from Marquette, showed his versatility from the get-go, grabbing a rebound in the first half and dribbling the length of the floor for a transition dunk. It was clear early on that it would not be an easy test for Demery.
“[It was about] playing strong,” Demery noted. “He had me physically, but mentally and heart wise, you just have to go out there and do the best you can do.”
Demery contained Taylor, only allowing the mature big man to score only 5 points in the first half on 2 of 5 shooting from the floor. Although Taylor finished with 14 points (not all of them with Demery on him), Demery noticeably held his own. Although the Toledo big man should have torn apart the smaller forward, he did not.
“I tried not to let Taylor get comfortable with the ball because he’s a big guy,” Demery said. “He knows how to use his feet as well. So I just tried to get him out of his comfort zone, which we did. In the first half of the game, he was kind of struggling. In the second half, he started to pick it up a little.”
Demery not only worked to disturb Taylor’s positioning in the post, but also fought for positioning in the rebounding department. Despite the mismatch, Demery outrebounded Taylor 8 to 7.
But Demery’s defense on the opposing team’s ‘4’ will not be an anomaly for the 2016-17 season.
“That’s what the coaches have been talking about for me, covering the four,” Demery added. “Then on the offensive end, that will make the lanes easier for me to get by a ‘4’ because most ‘4’s’ don’t have [good footwork].”
However, as the game progressed and Toledo went to a smaller lineup, Demery was then asked to play on the perimeter and cover Toledo's star guard Jonathan Williams, who averaged 19 points per game last season.
“Once we’re looking at four perimeter guys,” Martelli said, “we’ll pick the matchup for [Demery].”
It was a game that showed the true colors of Demery. His versatility and fearlessness was a large part of why Saint Joseph’s walked away with their first win of the season.
And although Demery may not look like the star of the night with only 11 points, the forward form North Carolina had a major impact on the outcome of the game. But after years of playing behind DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles, he’s accustomed to the role of the unsung hero, just like he was last night against Toledo.
Photo: Benjamin Simon/The Empire
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