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January 05, 2016

St. Joseph's blows 13-point lead; VCU snaps Hawks' 7-game win streak

DeAndre’ Bembry made the winning shot against Richmond over the weekend, hitting a jumper with 26.9 seconds to play. He had a chance to be the hero again Tuesday night, but his outside jumper hit the front of the rim as St. Joseph’s lost 85-82 to Virginia Commonwealth University.

The loss ended a seven-game winning streak, the Hawks' best stretch in seven years. Now 11-3, St. Joe’s fell to 1-1 in the Atlantic 10 Conference. VCU has won both its conference games and is 10-5 overall. It has now won five straight.

St. Joe’s jumped out to an 8-0 lead and held it until VCU took its first lead at 27-26 with just under six minutes in the half. The Hawks would trail by three at the break. Considering SJU missed 10 of 13 three-pointers and shot 36 percent overall, that wasn’t a bad situation to be in.

Things got better fast when Joe’s began the second half on a 13-0 run. With a 48-38 lead, it seemed the home team was going to get the expected victory. The lead was again 13 with 7:11 to go, but some dreadful free throwing shooting down the stretch – 5 of 10 – did them in.

“The disappointment is not in losing,’’ head coach Phil Martelli said. “The disappointment is in the controllable factor. We turned the ball over, and in the first half, we were in a frenzy over a passive 2-2-1 press. And in the second half, we were 9-for-19 in free throws. The game has always been a game of numbers, and we didn’t answer it well enough.’’

Senior forward Isaiah Miles did enough, leading the way with 31 points and nine rebounds. He hit four of six 3-pointers and 11 of 13 shots overall. St. Joe’s didn’t shoot poorly at 46 percent, but if it had made just two-thirds of its freebees it might have made the difference.

“For stretches we played good basketball,’’ Martelli said. “We didn’t grind enough; not like that silliness of, ‘Oh, they worked hard enough.’ We have another tough game (Thursday) against Rhode Island (10-5, 2-0). We had a good turnout (3,752) and there’s a good buzz about the team, and we have to make that a legitimate buzz.

“What hurt, really, is giving away a league home game,’’ he added. “They have to be valued. We led most of the game but we didn’t finish. You’re up 13 at home, you have to win. We gave up 47 points in (the second half). We’re not winning anything against anybody in this league giving up 47 in a half.’’

They should do well in the league, even though they were picked seventh in a preseason poll. St. Joe’s received three votes in the latest Associated Press poll and at times looked the part of an NCAA tournament team.


“Good teams close it out, but when you give a good team a chance to come back they do. We have to have a short memory,’’ Miles said. “I guess we have to take our anger out on Rhode Island. But this team can be really, really good. I’ve been saying that. There are so many pieces; it’s hard to stop us when we’re clicking.’’

For Bembry, the 4-for-9 night at the free throw line will bother him, not to mention the missed shot that could have sent the game into overtime.

“Of course, if affects me. It affects our team, too. If I’m going to be the main person on this team I have to make free throws. There’s nothing else to say about that. But we still have a great team. Losing a close one is heartbreaking,’’ he added, “but we scored 82 points with a lot of turnovers (18), so we can take some positive things out of the game.’’

With classes not resuming until the 14th, there is plenty of time to practice free throws. For Martelli, however, there is little time to rest.

“I don’t sleep anyway,’’ he said. “But because of the foul line (woes), this will keep me up until Wednesday night.’’

He was serious.

When Martelli’s comment about not sleeping was repeated to Bembry in the locker room, he forced the slightest smile, looked up from his chair and said, “He may not be the only one.’’


Miles came into the game 12th in the country in free throw percentage at 91.1 and made 5 of 7 against VCU; not to mention his other impressive numbers that rose Tuesday from 17.3 points per game and 8.6 rebounds. He had a career-high 16 boards last Saturday at Richmond … Joe’s led the conference in field goal percentage defense (39.0) and third in 3-point field goal percentage defense (30.) going into the game … Among the percentage improvements from a year ago are St. Joe’s scoring average (74.3 from 61.7) and free throw percentage (72.2 from 61.5, though you couldn’t tell that Tuesday) … The Hawk mascot was 60 years old on Monday. There have been 37 of them. Clearly the Hawk Will Never Die.