St. Joe's-Richmond: Ten Takeaways

On Saturday afternoon, St. Joe's traveled south to Richmond to square off with Chris Mooney's Richmond Spiders. The Spiders were coming off a tough loss to Texas Tech while St. Joe's was looking to extend their winning streak to seven. St. Joe's took the Atlantic 10 opener, 77-73, behind a balanced scoring effort and some late-game heroics by DeAndre Bembry. My ten takeaways are inside.

If you needed to be convinced that the Atlantic 10, even in a supposed down year, still produces high-level, entertaining basketball, you didn't need to look any further than Richmond-St. Joe's on Saturday afternoon. St. Joe's rallied in the second half from a nine-point deficit then held on, barely, in the closing seconds. My impressions on today's game and what the Hawks are gelling into is below,

1) DeAndre Bembry can beat you in so many different ways. For 20 minutes tonight, he was pedestrian. Dare I say, maybe even pretty bad. In the first half he missed a point blank lay-up and two other chip shots in close. At the half, he was 0-6 from the field and scoreless. As poorly as he played in the first half, that's how well he played in the second. Bembry poured in all 16 of his points in the second half, including the eventual game-winner, on a step-back jumper from 18 that broke a 73-73 tie. Granted, moments before, he missed three straight free throws to extend the Hawks' lead. Still, that jumper and a 2-2 trip to the line later, Bembry and the Hawks left Richmond with a win. DeAndre went 2-3 from three today, and is now 10-20 from deep in his last four games. In addition to his 16 second-half points, he also contributed 6 assists and 6 boards. Today's game was proof that you can't keep a great player down for long, and in order to win on the road in league play, it definitely helps to have a great player.

2) This is at least the third or fourth article I've written this year where I've mentioned Isaiah Miles' candidacy for All-League honors at the end of the year. He just keeps going out and producing double-doubles. He almost had one at the half today, with 9 points and 11 boards in the first half to keep the Hawks within 37-32 at intermission. Miles finished with 17 points and 16 rebounds. And one play in particular that doesn't show up in a box score or a press release is the defense that he played on Richmond's T.J. Cline on the final Richmond possession of the game. Cline backed Miles down in the post down 75-73, but Isaiah kept his ground, didn't bite, and forced Cline into a tough, contested shot. Bembry soared in for the rebound and the Hawks held on to win. Not only is Miles putting up gaudy numbers, but he's making smart, tough, senior plays like that one. He could very well be this team's MVP through 13 games.

3) Leading up to the game, there was plenty of discussion and speculation regarding whether Richmond junior guard ShawnDre' Jones would be able to go. He rolled his ankle late in Richmond's loss to Texas Tech but gave it a go Saturday. Well, he did more than give it a go. For large chunks of time Saturday, he was the best player on the court. Jones went 4-9 from downtown, and finished with a game-high 22 points. In 37 minutes. So his ankle obviously wasn't feeling too bad. As a true fan of the game, you want to see an opponent at full strength. I was thrilled to see Jones in Richmond's starting lineup today. He's a terrific player, and nearly won today's game for the Spiders.

4) James Demery and three-point shooting are not necessarily synonymous. However, he hit two critical deep balls on Saturday. Early in the second half, Richmond's lead ballooned to nine, 48-39. James elevated and knocked down a three off a pretty dish by Pierfrancesco Oliva. That three kicked off a quick 9-2 Hawk mini-run that put them right back in the game. Mid-way through the second half, Richmond threatened to once again pull away, and had built up a 61-56 lead. Who came through again in the clutch with a triple? James Demery. He hit that three then moments later a tough lean-in jumper from the left baseline. Not only did James pour in 10 points on 4-5 shooting in 20 minutes off the bench, but his points came at pivotal moments. He was a difference-maker today.

5) Today's win was the seventh in a row for the Hawks since Papa Ndao returned to the line-up. He went 3-6 from deep today, continuing to be the Hawks' best three-point shooter. Just as important as his 11 points were his 8 rebounds today, Ndao is such a spark off the bench for Phil Martelli. With Bembry struggling in the first half it was Isaiah Miles (9) and Papa Ndao (8) that shouldered the scoring load. Some speculated as to how much Ndao would help the Hawks when he returned to the lineup. The answer is quite clear. He's been brilliant.

6) Any road win in Atlantic 10 play is tough. You could argue that, on paper, this is the Hawks' toughest road test outside of a trip to Foggy Bottom to face off with George Washington. Home teams went 3-2 today in the Atlantic 10, with Rhode Island crushing Saint Louis, VCU steamrolling George Mason, and St. Bonaventure beating Davidson 97-85. St. Joe's and Dayton (over Duquesne) were the two road winners today. To begin conference play with a road win over a team ranked 71st in RPI by the NCAA going into today is no joke. That was a big win for the Hawks, on the road, against a team with wins over Cal, Northern Iowa, and at Wake Forest.

7) Shavar Newkirk played a smart floor game today. He went 5-6 from the line, finishing with 10 points, 4 assists, and just 1 turnover. He's bee the Hawks' best option at the point over the past few games. It was another rough outing off the bench for freshman point guard Lamarr Kimble. Since his heroics at Temple, Fresh is 1-18 from the field. The Hawks have been able to get by without much of anything from him, but they really need him to step up and play like he did against Temple and Buffalo and Florida. This team is at its best when both point guards are performing at a high level and there's no drop off from one to the other. The sooner Kimble breaks back through, the better.

8) While Kimble is struggling, fellow freshman Pierfrancesco Oliva seems to have found his groove again. He only played 14 minutes today, but he once again stuffed the stat sheet during those minutes. 7 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists for Checco in just 14 minutes one game after dropping 8 points, 4 assists, and 3 boards in 16 minutes against UMES. He had a brilliant feed to a cutting Isaiah Miles in the second half for an and-one right after Demery hit that first three. Checco then had a put-back moments later. He and Demery really sparked that comeback early in the second half. Against VCU's pressure Tuesday, Oliva could be a key piece, due to his size and vision at 6'8. His future is really bright.

9) Once again today, you wouldn't use the word pretty to describe the win. Gritty. Gutsy. Tough. Yet once again the Hawks won a close game. They beat Temple in overtime, Old Dominion on a buzzer-beater, and Columbia by a bucket. This team finds ways to win. Having seniors in Aaron Brown, Papa Ndao, and Isaiah Miles, plus junior DeAndre Bembry, certainly helps. But it takes a certain mental and physical toughness to win close games. And that's what this team has done so far this year

10) On Tuesday, the Hawks host VCU at Hagan Arena. This isn't a vintage VCU team, but the Hawks will still have their hands full with Melvin Johnson and company. If the Hawks can win both of their home games this week, against VCU and then Rhode Island, there is a significant chance that they could bust into the Top 25. Already receiving votes, they'll garner more following Saturday's win. So far this team has taken it a game at a time. Tuesday is the next big one. I'll have a full preview up Monday.

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