LAST SEASON, Saint Joseph's relied mostly on DeAndré Bembry. And why not? The 6-6 sophomore was already one of the best players in the city.
Now the Hawks appear to have some other weapons, which has only made them a better team.
But Tuesday night at Hagan Arena, they reverted to their former MO. Which isn't a bad option either.
They improved to 6-2 with a 62-50 win over Princeton (4-2). And they did so with Bembry pretty much being the show again. He finished with a season-high 27 points on 11-for-17 shooting to go with 10 rebounds, which matched his season best. Should we also mention his three assists and four steals? Good thing he was only 1-for-5 from the arc. Which of course meant he was nearly perfect from inside the line.
He can do that. Sometimes he doesn't have much choice.
"We didn't play the way we normally play (this season), where everyone's scoring and everyone's rebounding," Bembry said. "I had to get myself going. I really wanted it. I'm usually not the person who's yelling for the ball. But I needed to go get it. After last year, that's nothing new to me. We were doing that almost every game. It's not something I'm uncomfortable with.
"Last year, we lost a lot of these games."
It's a new journey. And it will continue on Sunday at Temple.
"Win No. 6 does not just begat win No. 7," said Hawks coach Phil Martelli, "unless we play much better. (Bembry) was just the best player. Everyone (else) has to look at the man in the mirror."
Bembry played 40 minutes. Only one teammate, Isaiah Miles (with 34), played more than 25.
"I'm sure (some people) will go, 'Oh, he's just interesting in winning on Dec. 8, that I'm going to wear him out for March," Martelli said. "If that's what it takes, that's the way it's going to be."
The Hawks led at the half, 28-25. The Tigers, who were coming off their first loss (by 14 on Saturday at Stony Brook), would never be closer than five in the closing 20 minutes. It was a seven-point game with four minutes to go. But the Hawks soon had it up to a dozen. And they made free throws down the stretch, something they had issues with last season.
Princeton, which has only one senior (who doesn't play much) and at one point had three freshmen on the floor, shot 19-for-66, 9-for-33 from three. That's not going to get it done. And the Tigers only took six shots from the foul line.
Miles finished with 13 for St. Joe's, and had eight boards. Soph James Demery, who's one of the most improved players in the Big 5, scored 12. But Aaron Brown, who had a career-high 26 in Friday's two-point win at Columbia, went 0-for-7. But he did have seven rebounds. Two other starters, freshman Oliva Pierfrancesco and Shavar Newkirk, also didn't score in a combined 41 minutes.
"I'd rather have one of my teammates get 27," Bembry said. "It's one game. I was just trying to make plays. The (perimeter shots) weren't falling, so I had to get to the basket for some layups. Then I was able to make a lot of midrange shots. So your confidence raises."
A lot of those midrange buckets were tough chances. He had 16 after intermission, including two lane jumpers that were well-defended with the shot clock running out when Princeton looked like it might be able to at least make it interesting.
Junior forward Steven Cook was the only Tiger to reach double digits, with 15. Only five came in the second half. Nine others scored, but none had more than seven.
"I'd like to say it was good defense," Martelli said. "But call it the way it is. They just missed shots. And some of our shot selection was deplorable. It's not like we came out smelling like a rose. A couple of our guys had off-games."
The most important one didn't. Sometimes, that's all that matters. And it sure beats getting loss No. 3.