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Drexel, St. Joe's expecting another defensive battle when they open the season

11/12/2015, 3:15pm EST
By Stephen Pianovich

DeAndre Bembry leads St. Joe's into the season against Drexel on Friday. (Photo: Tug Haines/CoBL)

Stephen Pianovich (@SPianovich)

It’s a new season with new lineups and new rotations, but that doesn’t change what it’s going to take to beat Drexel in Phil Martelli’s eyes.

“Every time we play Drexel, it’s a low-scoring affair, so we have to put guys on the floor that are going to get us baskets and are going to concentrate at the defensive end,” Martelli said. “You’re not going to be able to let them go on a 6-0 run, a 10-2 run, because points will be that valuable on Friday night.”

Drexel and Saint Joseph’s will get their seasons underway at 8 p.m. on Friday in Hagan Arena. It’s the first game of the post Damion Lee era for Drexel, while the Hawks are still led by do-everything wing DeAndre Bembry.

It remains to be seen how each coach will rotate his players, as Drexel is much healthier and deeper than a year ago and the Hawks added three freshman that figure to see the court. But Bruiser Flint agreed with Martelli on what kind of game it will probably be.

“We try to do what we do, we’re not going to come up with some magical formula to try to beat them,” said Flint, whose Dragons fell 52-49 to St. Joe’s last November. “We’ll play solid defense, play tight on Bembry, make him work for his shots and try to out-rebound them.”

There are questions around both team’s starting lineups, specifically their backcourts, and Martelli answered those earlier in the week. The coach announced that Shavar Newkirk would get the start at point guard, joined by Aaron Brown in the backcourt. Bembry, of course, will be on the wing with Isiah Miles and freshman Pierfrancesco “Checco” Oliva in the post.

Also expected in the rotation for the Hawks are freshman guards Lamarr Kimble and Chris Clover, sophomore James Demery, junior Javon Baumann and big man Papa Ndao, who Martelli noted was dealing with a finger injury.

On Drexel’s side, Flint was more tight-lipped on who his first five players on the floor will be, but it will be worth keeping an eye on who is bringing the ball up for his team. Major Canady and Rashann London, never healthy at the same time, have both taken on point guard duties for the Dragons at times during the last two seasons. They also have freshman Terrell Allen, who Flint expects to get some minutes.

Another newcomer is Utah transfer Ahmad Fields, who will be playing his first game for Drexel on Friday. Flint mentioned Fields has dealt with an injury throughout the preseason, but expects him to be ready to go on Friday.

“He’s been a little hurt, so that’s sort of held him back a little bit,” Flint said. “He’s been all right in the scrimmages, and he’s had some ups and downs. It’s the first game, so we’ll see how it goes.”

In Drexel’s three-point loss to the Hawks last season, Lee scored nearly half of his team’s points, ending with 23 of the Dragon’s 49. Lee, who transferred to Louisville, averaged 21.4 points per game last season, and it’s going to be a hole Drexel will need multiple players to help fill.

Martelli isn’t too upset he doesn’t have to draw up a game plan to slow down Lee, but he does admit fans are missing out on a great matchup with his departure.

“I believe if Damion Lee and DeAndre Bembry were playing against each other on Friday night in Hagan Arena, I think all 30 NBA teams would be represented and people would be calling it not just a matchup of two great Philadelphia players, but two great national players,” Martelli said. “So, I feel for Bru and his staff and players. I’m anxious to see what they look like.”

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