Hawks Down Drexel: Ten Takeaways

On Friday night, St. Joe's saw a late double-digit lead whittled down to one by a resilient Drexel Dragons team. In the end, the Hawks walked off the floor a little after 10 o'clock with an 82-81 win over Drexel and a 1-0 record. Hawk Hill Hardwood was on hand, and ten takeaways are inside.

1) DeAndre Bembry has been the subject of many an off-season article. He is considered by many to be a future first-round NBA draft pick. The Preseason Player of the Year favorite in the Atlantic 10. The fact that he didn't look all that impressive, or near his best, Friday night, and still finished with a game-high 23 points speaks volumes. Bombry took just 12 shots from the field, going 6-12. He did most of his damage at the free-throw line, where he went 11-15, good for 73%. DeAndre shot 58% from the stripe as a freshman then 64% last year. If he can shoot at a clip like 70%, as he did last night, that will do wonders both for the Hawks and for his steadily rising NBA stock.

2) Senior Aaron Brown got the start last night, in a move that surprised many, myself included. At times last year, Brown was the Hawks' second best player. That was the case again last night. Aaron was terrific. Brown finished with 15 points and 5 rebounds, shooting 5-10 from the field and a perfect 5-5 from the line. If he can continue to play at that level, he should, and will, remain in the starting lineup.

3) The Hawk coaching staff couldn't have really asked for a better college debut than the one they got from 6'8 forward Pierfrancesco Oliva. All offseason, reports have emerged from SJU practices detailing his smooth shooting stroke and his high basketball IQ. He demonstrated the whole offensive arsenal last night. Checco went 2-4 from three, a perfect 4-4 from the line, and finished with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, and 3 blocks. During the second half, he had two perfect high-low passes to Bembry in the post. Oliva did get pushed around down low, as would be expected. He battled though. His appearance in the starting lineup, like Brown's was a bit of a surprise. Like Brown, he too was a pleasant surprise.

4) The final score was a shock, not just to me, but to anyone that follows or covers either the Hawks or Dragons. Last year's early-season battle between the two City 6 squads was 52-49 in favor of the Hawks. From scoring a combined 101 points a year ago to 163 this year, it was quite a change. Part of that is due to bullet point 5.

5) Fouls, fouls, and more fouls. The two teams combined for a ridiculous 52 fouls on Friday night. And that's after a much more fluid, less whistle-filled second half. This wasn't unique to last night. It's the new NCAA. At least early this year, expect games to drag on as officials are calling fouls on nearly every instance of contact. St. Joe's shot 39 free throws last night. Drexel shot 28%. It was tough to watch at times, especially in the first half. That being said, it helped the Hawks last night.

6) The Hawks were terrific from the free throw line....until the final minute. Until James Demery and Shavar Newkirk went a combined 0-4 from the line in the game's final minute, St. Joe's was 28-35 from the line, good for 80%. Talk about an upgrade from a year ago, when the Hawks were abysmal from the stripe. Aaron Brown was 5-5. Pierfrancesco Oliva was 4-4. DeAndre Bembry was 11-15. There was more cause for optimism shooting from the line last night than cause for concern.

7) If you had told me a week ago that Chris Clover was only going to play three minutes, I would have thought you were kidding. But that's exactly what happened Friday night. Clover, who was the Philadelphia Catholic League MVP a year ago at St. Joe's Prep, played just three minutes, and didn't remove his warm-up all second half. I am inclined to say that will change, but with Aaron Brown playing as well as he did last night, and James Demery in a role of defensive stopper and energy guy off the bench, it will be interesting to see where Clover's minutes come from. He is too talented to sit on the bench 37 minutes a night though.

8) The Hawks pressed! Early on, when St. Joe's built up a 29-13 lead, Phil Martelli employed a variety of defensive schemes. He mixed up full-court press with zone and man-to-man. Pierfrancesco Oliva has the quickness and length at 6'8 to cause problems pressing, and he did just that early. James Demery was fantastic on the defensive end. Martelli went back to mainly man-to-man in the second half and Drexel made it a game. Moving forward, will the Hawks press more? They can go ten deep, and did last night in the first half. Then the bench shortened in the second half with the starters, Lamarr Kimble, and James Demery getting the lion's share of minutes. The Hawks will likely be at their best using their depth and athleticism, coupled with the new 30-second shot clock, to help compensate for their lack of size in the front court.

9) All offseason, I've written about and we have discussed James Demery's areas of needed improvement. One was getting stronger so that he could finish around the rim. He looks like he's done that. On three separate occasions Friday night, he finished through contact around the rim. All three were likely misses last year. That's the positive. The negative is that his shooting simply needs to be better. Not even on jumpers, but at the free throw line. James was just 1-5 from the line last night, including a rough 0-2 trip in the game's closing minute. If he's going to play in games down the stretch this year, he can't be such a liability at the line.

10) The Hawks need to close better. A three by Oliva gave the Hawks a 77-65 lead in the closing minutes. Two DeAndre Bembry turnovers, 0-4 from the line, and timely threes by Drexel made it an 82-81 final. Those types of mental lapses and free throw misses will simply not cut it against better teams.

St. Joe's started the year off with a win this year, surviving a last-second three. Last season, they lost their opener on a buzzer-beater three by FDU. The Hawks have a quick turnaround, hosting Niagara Sunday afternoon at 5.

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