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March 19, 2016

St. Joe’s rewind: The final play, Bembry’s excellence, and Martelli talks marijuana

What an incredible finish that we all saw in the final game of the first round up in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s not waste any time and dive right into St. Joe’s 78, Cincinnati 76:

•    Lost in all of the talk about Octavius Ellis’ late dunk attempt, Phil Martelli drew up a terrific ATO to get the Hawks a win. Here are a couple of angles on Isaiah Miles’ winning jumper:

DeAndre’ Bembry took the dribble handoff moving to his right with Papa Ndao running off a flare screen from Aaron Brown and Fresh Kimble also moving toward that strong-side corner. On that play, everyone is either on or moving to the right side of the floor.

Except Miles, a nice bit of misdirection. There a plenty of options on that play, but the first one is to spring Miles free on the pick-and-pop. With the season on the line, you bet Martelli was going to run something for his best two players.

“I had the sneaking suspicion that DeAndre’ would throw the ball back to Isaiah and want Isaiah to get the ball in the air,” Martelli told reporters in Spokane. “I was standing behind him, and that kid [Farad Cobb] didn’t miss from blocking another jumper by much.”

•    It was fitting that Miles hit the shot, as no player symbolizes the St. Joe’s turnaround better than “Zeke.” Last year, Miles was an afterthought. This year, he has the 13th highest individual offensive rating IN THE COUNTRY, per KenPom.

Miles went from shooting 39-35-75 from the field in 2014-15 to 53-39-88 on way more attempts, which is nothing short of incredible. He tirelessly worked on both his game and body (laying off the Belly Fillers at Larry’s) in the offseason, something which isn’t lost on Martelli.

“There’s a lot of shots that Isaiah has taken since last April to see that one go in, because he’s envisioned this,” he said. 

It was the first game-winner of Miles’ college career.

“The guys reacted off the pick, pick-and-pop,” Miles told reporters. “I’ve been practicing that since seventh grade in middle school. So just step into the shot and make the shot.”

•  The bench was having a little fun in the second half:

•    Even with Miles’ late heroics, Bembry was the best player on the floor for all 40 minutes. In an incredible all-around performance, he finished with 23 points (8-14 FG, 3-5 3P), 6 rebounds, 5 assists (2 TOs), 3 blocks, and 2 steals.

Remember, Bembry did all of that against a Top-10 defense nationally with incredible length and athleticism. Some of the threes he hit in the first half off bad passes were huge, especially when shooting is usually his weakness:

“He’s been zeroed in, the look in his eye since last Saturday night [against Dayton] has been… not that he would say it this way, but everybody in the country now knows his name,” Martelli told reporters. “Even Mark Few will say, ‘Oh, that kid with the afro, you mean Bembry.’”

Two plays that won't make Bembry's highlight reel that I loved: 1. A cross-court bullet assist a la LeBron that went right in Aaron Brown's shooting pocket for a three. 2. A defensive play where he let the driver get by him purposely just so he could pin the shot from behind.

•    Put your head back on!

•    I loved the chess match between the two coaches that Cincy big guy Coreontae DeBerry caused. In the halftime interview, Martelli said that the 6’9”, 210-pound big fella was larger in person than he looked on tape. He looked plenty big to me on TV.

One of the Hawks’ major weaknesses is dealing with big bodies down low (Miles is essentially their 5 at only 6’7”), and DeBerry feasted on the undersized frontline with 18 points (6-6 FG, 6-7 FT). Problem is, DeBerry has to take someone on the other end and it’s not like he can guard Miles behind the arc. He couldn’t stay in front of Aaron Brown off the bounce, either.

•    We’ll be here 20 years from now and Crying Jordan will still be going strong:

•    Cincy shot 10-24 from three and still lost the game. After the UConn loss in the AAC Tournament, Cronin's club has to be the most hard-luck team in the country.

•    Enjoy this one, Hawk fans:

•    Like always, Martelli had jokes:

•    On Sunday, we have the earliest game on the schedule (‘Nova-Iowa, 12:10 p.m.) followed by the latest as St. Joe’s gets its shot at No. 1 seed Oregon. The Ducks got a 91-52 win over Holy Cross earlier in the night:

•    Oregon, the Pac 12’s last chance along with Utah, is going to make for a much different matchup than Cincy. Like St. Joe’s, the Ducks win with offense and skill more than the hard-nosed defense Cincy is known for. I think the Ducks are a slightly better version of the Hawks, but St. Joe’s is always going to have a legit chance with Bembry and Miles in uniform. Prediction: Oregon 80, St. Joe’s 75

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann