DeAndre Bembry scored a team-high 16 points as St. Joe's knocked off No. 15 Dayton on Wednesday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)
Stephen Pianovich (@SPianovich)
Whatever happened at Hagan Arena on Wednesday night wasn’t going to affect Phil Martelli’s plans in the immediate future. And he didn’t necessarily want his team to think about what beating the country’s 15th-ranked team could do for the Hawks in the long term.
But now they’re going to find out.
With a 79-70 win over No. 15 Dayton at Hagan Arena, St. Joe’s (22-4, 11-2) finds itself in a three-way tie with the Flyers and VCU atop the Atlantic 10 with just more than two weeks left in the regular season. The victory – the first for the program against a ranked opponent since beating then-No. 23 VCU in the A-10 Tournament on March 16, 2013 – also boosts the Hawks already-strong NCAA Tournament resume. And there’s a strong chance the Hawks, if they take care of business at Davidson on Saturday, could enter the AP top 25 for the first time since the 2003-04 season next week.
Still, Martelli is keeping his eyes where they’ve been focused all season: On tomorrow.
“I think this was a big game because of playing for first place,” Martelli said. “That’s obviously a tournament team, but we won a home game. I think the bigger implications are the road games. And we have practice (Thursday) at 3:30, whether we won or whether we lost, we have practice at 3:30 and a game on Saturday. It’s a really good win because it was against a good team with a really terrific young coach and they had been on a run.”
The Hawks put up 79 points on a Dayton defense that entered Wednesday allowing just 64 points a game, the best mark in the A-10 and the 20th-best in the nation. DeAndre’ Bembry had a team-high 16 points and completed a double-double with 13 rebounds. Bembry was one of five Hawks to score at least 12 points and he was joined by Aaron Brown (14), Lamarr Kimble (13), Isaiah Miles (12 after a scoreless first half) and James Demery (12).
St. Joe’s created matchup problems all night for the Flyers (21-4, 11-2 A-10), who were without big man Kendall Pollard (knee). The Hawks got to the line 24 times compared to the Flyers’ seven attempts from the free throw line and shot 45.3 percent from the floor.
“That to me is as good of a team as we’ve seen this season,” Dayton coach Archie Miller said. “They’re a different type of team because of the way their skill level is. I think Coach has got them clearly from an offensive perspective really in a great rhythm because of their movement. They’re hard to guard. I thought the thing that was really surprising to me though was how they overpowered us for about 40 minutes. Physically I thought they dominated us. They were commanding in how they approached the game.”
St. Joe’s led nine at the break and was up by double-digits for a good portion of the second half. Still, Dayton wasn’t leaving Hawk Hill without a run. The Hawks led by as many as 14 in the final 20 minutes, but an 11-3 Dayton run got that lead down to five at 66-61 with a little more than three minutes left, prompting Martelli to burn a timeout.
To some Hawks fans, this was probably reminiscent of when their team blew an eight-point advantage against VCU earlier in the conference season. But the Hawks went on a 6-2 run out of that timeout, one that was sealed with a putback dunk from Bembry.
“I just think we were older at that point,” Martelli said. “We got in that predicament because our defense broke down. It hadn’t broken down all game, but we were satisfied, and that’s not a good thing.”
Looking at the box score, the Hawks controlled the ball well (just six turnovers) and also contested the 3-point line (holding Dayton to a 25.8 percentage from beyond the arc). St. Joe’s did a lot of things well in its biggest win of the season. But the team is hoping for even more marquee victories in the next month.
“It’s definitely a game that we’ll need further on after the (Atlantic 10 Tournament),” Bembry said. “Of course we think about stuff like that. But first off, it’s just about winning the game. It’s just about winning the game. It’s another game for us against another team that’s now tied up with us for first place.”