February 17, 2016
PHILADELPHIA – The talk in Philadelphia all week was the showdown on Broad Street with Temple hosting the country’s top-ranked team in Villanova, with a side order of a Big Five rivalry.
Turns out the game of the night was in the city – off City Avenue.
In one of the most spirited, back-and-forth college basketball games of the season, St. Joseph’s grabbed a share of the Atlantic 10 Conference lead by out-playing Dayton 79-70 Wednesday night at Hagan Arena.
The result left both teams 11-2 in the conference. Overall St. Joe’s rose to 22-4. Dayton, ranked 15th in the country by The Associated Press, is 21-4. Virginia Commonwealth, which did not play last night, is also 11-2 in the conference.
St. Joe’s led throughout the second half before a standing-room-only crowd (4200 so-called capacity) and a student section straight out of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
Good defense by St. Joseph's had plenty to do with Dayton’s horrible 3-point shooting as the Flyers let fly 31 and swished only 8. An off-shoot of their effort from the outside was that going to the basket resulted in a free throw lapse, as Dayton went to the line only seven times.
"That was a really big deal," St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “We guarded. I really did think we zeroed in defensively. And I can’t overlook what (Javon) Bauman did. He only got three rebounds (and one block), but he got people excited and we didn’t panic."
Bauman, a 6-8 junior, was in for only eight minutes, but with starting forward Isaiah Miles in foul trouble, not to mention missing all seven 3-pointers he attempted (though he did have 12 boards), he didn’t hurt the cause by any means.
The win all but assured the Hawks of an NCAA berth, though Martelli, as usual, wouldn’t go down that street. St. Joe’s has won 11 of its last 12. Dayton had won nine in a row.
Protecting the ball has been a strength all season and it was again against Dayton’s pressure, with the Hawks only turning it over six times.
“That pleases me, but doesn’t surprise me," Martelli said. “The things that really good teams do we do. We don’t foul you, we don’t turn it over, and we are getting to the point where we don’t panic. There’s a lot to like about this team. I would say I’m pleased but not satisfied. It’s not that I dwell on minutia, but I think we can play better.
"I never put a number on my teams, I never put expectations on my teams, because to me that’s putting yourself in a box. Because if things don’t work out, for (whatever) reason, they’re gonna’ take me out in a box."
St. Joe’s jumped to a 6-0 lead much to the delight of the packed student section, and all the excitement made Dayton call timeout not even two minutes into the game. There would be eight lead changes before St. Joe’s took command, closing the half on a 15-4 burst. The 36-27 margin would have been greater if the Hawks had made more than half their free throws (7-for-14). Then again, the game might have been closer if Dayton had made a few of its 3-pointers (2 of 13).
The pace was frenetic and only three of the 17 players who checked in played more than 15 minutes in the first half. As usual, however, St. Joe’s took care of the ball and committed only four turnovers during the half.
With Dayton leaving its 3-point accuracy in Ohio (4-for-21 midway in the second half), St. Joe’s was able to stretch its lead to 14 points with just more than 11 minutes to play. A basket by DeAndre’ Bembry, a skying-to-the-hoop baseline slam by James Demery and a score underneath by Miles put the Hawks ahead 54-40.
Dayton, of course, was not going away quietly, cutting the deficit to eight as St. Joe’s began to go cold as the clock crawled under five minute. The score was 63-57. The sellout crowd was suddenly and nervously subdued.
The lead would again dip, 66-61, and visions of VCU festered. Last month St. Joe’s held a 13-point lead with fewer than eight minutes to play before losing that key conference game. Not this time.
“We just want to keep winning games," said Bembry, who had another outstanding effort with 16 rebounds, 13 points, 3 assists and zero turnovers. “If we do, we’ll be where we want to be."
Once again playing the game of the night.
St. Joe’s at Davidson, Saturday, 2 p.m.
St. Bonaventure at Dayton, Saturday, noon
NOTES: St. Joe’s has beaten Dayton eight straight times since Jan. 2000, but the teams had split the past 16 meetings… Its ranking of 15th is the highest Dayton has been this late in the season since 1960. The current record coming in was also its best start since 2007-08…Three of St. Joe’s final five regular season games are on the road. Best student section sign: "My Mom Thinks I’m Studying."