Hawks awake from slumber in first half, explode to beat Loyola (Md.)
DeAndre Bembry scores 21 as St. Joe's rebounds from ugly loss to Villanova.
IT WAS the Baltimore Jesuits against the Philadelphia Jesuits. And St. Ignatius might have been wondering exactly why all those Jesuit colleges have loved their basketball for so long.
Loyola and Saint Joseph's had been playing for nearly 12 minutes at Hagan Arena. The Hawks had seven points.
SJU coach Phil Martelli had a lot to say between Saturday afternoon, when his team got hammered at Villanova, and when the ball went up last night.
"I wasn't really nice," he said. "I wasn't a real grandfather type to them on Sunday or Monday."
Who knows why some things happen? It might have been what the coach said, but in the end it was what his team did. These offensively challenged Hawks went on a run that really did not seem possible. After getting those seven points in 12 minutes, they got 50 in the next 20 minutes and sent Loyola (3-6) back down I-95, wondering who exactly those guys were who beat them, 68-42.
SJU trailed, 18-7, after those ugly 12 minutes. The Hawks had taken 11 shots and missed nine.
"It hurts your stomach," Martelli said.
"It is not about playing harder," the coach said, "it is about playing better."
The Hawks then proceeded to play better than they had all season.
"The energy from Shavar Newkirk turned the game around," Martelli said of his freshman point guard from New York. "We were floundering, worried again about the ball going in the basket."
In fact, the Hawks were midway between dazed and unconscious. And then the ball finally started to go in the basket.
In the final 2 minutes and change of the first half, DeAndre Bemby hit a three and then a layup, both assisted by senior point guard Chris Wilson. Then, Newkirk stole the ball and set up Wilson. Isaiah Miles hit a jumper. Newkirk set up Bembry for a three at the buzzer - five consecutive hoops by a team for which consecutive baskets had been cause for celebration.
"The best thing was we played a good team defense," said Bembry, who finished with 21 points on 11 shots, to go along with seven rebounds. "That got us a lot of fastbreak points. We felt more confident to shoot the ball."
The second half began with a dunk by Bembry and another by James Demery, a three from Wilson, a layup by Demery and a follow dunk by Bembry off a Wilson miss.
"The second-half offense was a direct reflection of our defense, stops, runouts," Martelli said.
It was nine consecutive hoops and eventually a 50-13 blitz over those 20 minutes spanning the halves. Bembry was really good during the run.
"On offense, he's got to go slower and on defense he's got to go faster," Martelli said. "That's what we're looking for. That crown is heavy when you're the best player on a team that struggles to score."
Bembry did what they were looking for. So did his teammates.
"We've been 4-4 before," said Wilson, who had 13 points, with four assists and four rebounds. "Last year, when we were 4-4, everybody thought it was the end of the world. This year, everybody thinks it's the end of the world again. We know what we've got in the locker room. We know the coaches believe in us."
The head coach, Wilson said, told them exactly what they needed to hear.
"He was just doing what we needed, just being honest," Wilson said. "We've been very average to this point, and he wasn't shy about pointing that out."
The Hawks had five blocks and seven steals. They outscored the Greyhounds, 14-2, on the fastbreak points.
These Hawks have some athletes. They can be very good in the open court. They will not dazzle anybody with skill or halfcourt acumen.
"If they get out and run," Martelli said, "I think we can be a whole lot more than 4-4."
They are now 5-4, with exams starting today. They do not play again until Dec. 20 at Marist. And play only once more (Dec. 29 at Denver) after that until Atlantic 10 play starts Jan. 3 at home against George Washington.
The Hawks have played two ranked teams and lost by 80. So, they are not in that world. But they are in some world that does not have to make every other game before last night so difficult.
On Sunday, Martelli told his players they didn't look as if they believed they belonged. Last night, they belonged and acted like it. Bembry, who had sat out only 21 of 325 minutes, got to spend the final 8 minutes on the bench chilling out.
"We've been on the other side of that, and it's not a great feeling, the two times it happened to us," Martelli said.
This time, it happened for them, a nice hint that 2015 could be a little more interesting than the first eight games suggested.