With 13 minutes left in the second half, junior DeAndre Bembry nailed a jumper to cut Villanova’s lead to six. The crowd was jumping. The players could feel it. The coaches were smelling it.
And just 20 seconds later, Villanova big man Daniel Ochefu missed a jumper. After a Saint Joseph’s rebound, the Hawks had a chance to cut the lead to as much as three. But freshman Lamarr Kimble missed a jumper and Kris Jenkins finished seconds later with a layup to extend the Wildcat lead to eight. But again, with resiliency, Saint Joseph’s senior Isaiah Miles sinked another bucket to minimize the lead to six.
It was right then and there it seemed like the Hawks might be able to steal the game. With a rocking crowd on their backs and a little run on their side, it seemed like the match would come down to the wire.
3 minutes later it was an eleven point game and Villanova had complete control. The Hawks couldn’t gain any traction after the spurt in the mid part of the second half, as Villanova seized the reigns.
But, it’s not that Saint Joseph’s played bad. The Wildcats were just too good by the end.
Despite the 86-72 loss, the Hawks actually hung around for most the of the game. They showed at times during the game (and in the early part of the season) that they are a scary team that will certainly win a lot of games during the 2015-16 season.
For starters, even though the squad is 4-2, DeAndre Bembry has yet to play his best basketball. He’s been good, but not the All-American Saint Joseph’s faithful were expecting. Although he has yet to score in single digits, Bembry hasn’t been dominant and completely taken over a game. In the opener against Drexel, Bembry scored 23, but feasted more off the free throw line. Since, he hasn’t scored above 20, but has had multiple solid games. Think about how competitive the Hawks have been without Bembry playing his best. When he starts to really find his touch, especially long range, where he is shooting only 12%, Saint Joseph’s is a frightening team.
Isaiah Miles has also emerged as a potential go-to option. Averaging 16.5 points per game and shooting 55% from the field, Miles has proven to cause fits for opposing teams. His ability to step out, hit the jumper, but also play in the post has helped him thrive in his final year. With a tandem of Bembry and Miles, the Hawks have two of the best playmakers in the A-10. They showed that Tuesday night, as the two combined for 31 points on 14-30 shooting against one of the best teams in the country. When both on their game, the team will be hard to slow down.
Another reason that makes the Hawks scary is their depth. The team has proved that they have many players that deserve solid minutes. So far, coach Martelli has played ten players in all six games. Seven of them have averaged double digit minutes. The team also has graduate senior Papa Ndao returning to help add to the depth.
Coach Martelli has used his long bench to his disposal and it has helped the team succeed. It keeps the defense on their toes and additionally keeps his players fresh and ready to play. However, against Villanova, coach Martelli avoided digging too deep in his bench as four of the five starters played at least 30 minutes. This was part of the problem as Villanova chipped away. If the Hawks continue to win, they will have to use their well rounded and deep bench to their benefit.
Specifically, the Hawks have a versatile front with many options. They have players who play more on the perimeter, with Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva, Isaiah Miles, and Papa Ndao when he returns. They also have people who can play with their back to the basket, in Javon Baumann, Markell Lodge, Jai Williams, and Miles. Their big men are deep and it will give coach Martelli a load of options to exploit the other team’s weaknesses.
If a team has big men who aren’t mobile, don’t be surprised to see Miles and Checco on the floor. When a team has a skinnier backcourt, the Hawks can throw in Baumann, Lodge, Williams, or even Miles to back them down. The different set of assets in the frontcourt will open up opportunities for the Hawks as the season progresses.
All in all, despite Saint Joseph’s loss to to Villanova, where they were just beat down by a better team, there is a lot to be positive about. The team is going to win their fair share of games and a NCAA tournament bid does not seem far fetched. If they can use their strengths to their advantage, the team is going to make some noise across the country.
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
-Saint Joseph's ends season with loss in first round of A-10 tournament against UMass