St. Joe’s and Drexel got their season underway this past Friday at Hagan Arena in Philadelphia, PA.
Freshman Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva started the game for the Hawks, which was a surprise for many because Martelli has not been known to start freshman in the past. Furthermore, grad student Papa Ndao did not dress for the game due to a finger injury, which will sideline him for about two weeks.
Drexel head coach Bruiser Flint also made an intriguing change to his starting lineup, when fifth- year senior guard Tavon Allen was not named in the starting five for the Dragons. It was later reported that Allen did not start due to fatigue from preseason play.
This gave freshman Terrell Allen the opportunity to be the primary ball handler for Flint’s team and he took full advantage of it. Allen’s ability to dribble the ball from basket to basket at top speed is incredible and should mix well with Tavon Allen, when he returns to the starting lineup.
Terrell Allen, just like Checco, started in his collegiate debut and played all but four minutes for the Dragons. This shows Flint’s confidence in the young guard and who could blame him. Allen scored 18 points, dished out 4 assists, collected 4 steals, grabbed 2 offensive rebounds, and only turned over the ball once. What a first regular season college basketball game.
This is not say that Checco did not have a good performance of his own. He not only scored 12 points for the Hawks but recorded 4 assists, 3 blocks, and 4 rebounds in 25 minutes. Not to mention the clutch three pointer he hit with less than three minutes remaining in the second half to extend St. Joseph’s lead to 12. Cheeco had an all around game and confirmed Martelli’s decision to start him.
The Hawks started fast out the gates to take a commanding lead for the first 10 minutes of the game but Drexel began to make a comeback towards the end of the first half when coach Martelli began to rotate his lineup.
The comeback was partly due to the early foul trouble of senior guard Aaron Brown and the needed rest for standout forward DeAndre Bembry. In total, Martelli used an uncommon 12 players in the first half of the game.
It is early in the season so Martelli may be experimenting with certain player combinations but it is very unlikely that this trend will continue. Look for Martelli to tighten his rotation as the season progress.
Additionally, the referees blew their whistles more often than not during this contest, which led to coach Flint receiving a technical foul and both teams shooting a combined 43 free throws in the first half. This is bound to happen early on in the season as teams are still getting back to game form.
The constant foul calling led to 11 of Bembry’s 23 points coming from the foul line. This trend would continue as both teams combined for 67 total free throws.
After two ill-advised decisions by sophomore guard Shavar Newkirk at the beginning of the second half, Martelli called on freshman Lamarr “Fresh” Kimble to take his place. Kimble, who just like Terrell Allen and Checco, made his debut and stabilized the backcourt for the Hawks during his time on the floor.
Kimble did not fill the stat sheet like his two freshman counterparts did but gave Martelli 17 solid minutes off the bench. Newkirk and Kimble will continue to split time at point guard for the Hawks but don’t be surprised if Kimble is starting sooner rather than later, especially if Newkirk continues his inconsistency to make the right decision.
Although Tavon Allen did not start the second half on the court, he made up for it, scoring 16 of his 20 points off the bench in the second period and had 2 assists to go along with it. If Tavon Allen was fatigued from the preseason he did not show it, going 3-of-6 from the three point line and 5-for-5 from the charity stripe.
The Dragons also received a quality performance from Philly native Rashann London, who scored 11 points, in addition to 4 rebounds and 2 assists in 30 minutes. Now that Damion Lee is gone, Drexel will have to replace his production and London showed that he has the ability to take up some of the slack with the help of Tavon and Terrell Allen, among others.
The Hawks never really put this game away however, letting Drexel hang around until the end. Lackluster free throw shooting and rebounding from the Hawks kept Drexel in the game but with veteran leadership from Brown, who finished the game with 15 points, senior Isaiah Miles, who tallied a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds, and Bembry, the Hawks were able to sneak out of Hagan Arena with a win.
Martelli and his team must continue to work on rebounding on both ends of the floor and foul shooting if they want to finish the season in the top half of the A-10 conference standings. If they don’t, it’s going to be a long heart wrenching season.
Flint will make sure that Drexel’s defense is sound but will have to continue to find players that will replace the offensive production left by Damion Lee. Guards Tavon Allen, Terrell Allen, and Rashann London are potential candidates and they showed why Friday night. However, the real question is, can they get more offensive production from their big men? The Drexel faithful will just have to wait and see.
One thing is for sure though. St. Joe’s and Drexel still have a lot of work to do but both teams have freshman who can play with the best of them and have bright futures ahead.
Photo: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
-Saint Joesph's loses to #25 Rhode Island in the Semifinal of the A-10 tournament