St. Joe's-VCU: 36 Hours Later

On Tuesday night, St. Joe's allowed VCU to storm back from a 72-62 deficit in the final six minutes at Hagan Arena. The Rams closed the game on a 23-10 run to end the Hawks' seven-game winning streak and drop SJU to 11-3. Now, we take a deep, long look at what what happened, and where the loss leaves the Hawks.

With 7:11 left in regulation on Tuesday night in Hagan Arena, DeAndre Bembry went 1-2 from the free throw line, giving St. Joe's a 70-57 lead over Will Wade's VCU Rams. Hagan Arena was rocking. Isaiah Miles was cooking. St. Joe's had overcome a 38-35 deficit to sieze total control of the game and the crowd. What happened over those closing seven minutes certainly puts a damper on what's been a terrific season to date for the Hawks.

Isaiah Miles, who poured in a game-high 31 points, knocked down a jumper with 5:47 to play. He would go 1-2 from the line and then miss his only other field goal attempt of the game at the 2:24 mark. Prior to that point, Miles was 11-13 from the field. His only two misses were on threes, where he was 4-6. Yet somehow, in the game's final 5:46, he only attempted one more field goal attempt.

Clinging to a lead that had dwindled down to 77-74, DeAndre Bembry missed a jumper. Mo Alie-Cox scored then on two possessions in a row where Isaiah Miles was left alone on an island with him in the post, which gave VCU it's first lead of the second half, at 78-77 with just over a minute to play. Bembry would then get fouled, once again hit 1-2 from the line, and tie the game up at 78. Another bucket in the post for Alie-Cox, another Bembry miss, and then a JeQuan Lewis bucket gave the Rams an 82-78 lead, and a lead that the Rams would not rescind. A DeAndre Bembry desperation three at the buzzer didn't fall, and VCU completed the comeback.

After playing 13 minutes of incredible basketball in the second half, turning a 3-point deficit into a 13-point lead, what went wrong? There are a number of things that you can point to. One would be the playing time of freshman forward Pierfrancesco Oliva. Oliva played just 13 minutes, but in that time, he had 6 points on 2-3 shooting, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, and 3 steals. He was a remarkable +22 in just 13 minutes. On the flip side, Papa Ndao, who has been a huge asset this season, struggled in his minutes. In 15 minutes, Ndao didn't score, had 4 boards, 1 assist, and 2 turnovers. One of them in the second half during VCU's comeback was a costly one. Aaron Brown played 28 minutes, scoring 6 points on 2-7 shooting, while also tallying 3 rebounds and an assist. Oliva's minutes have been on a steady decline, and he had some struggles for a stretch there. However, he has played very well the past three games, and was terrific against VCU. Could he have maybe taken 5 or 6 of Ndao's or Brown's minutes? And if so, does the game change? It was perplexing to see him sit on the bench as the lead dissipated, knowing that he played such a vital and important role while on the court.

DeAndre Bembry won the game at Richmond on Saturday, knocking down an NBA caliber step-back jumper. He really struggled down the stretch against VCU. Dre shot just 1-6 from three and 4-9 from the free throw line. He seemed to want to take charge in the closing minutes, but struggled. In the game's final 10 minutes, he shot 2-5 from the free throw line and 1-6 from the field. He is the team's captain and the best all-around player on the team. There is no question about that. That being said, Isaiah Miles was absolutely feeling it, yet he wasn't the one getting touches down the stretch. Not getting shots. It was DeAndre, on a night where he wasn't knocking down shots.

The obvious, glaringly obvious, takeaway Tuesday was free throw shooting. The Hawks went 8-10 in the first half, but just 9-19 in the second. To miss ten free throws in a game decided by just three points is something that you simply can't gloss over. Shavar Newkirk and Isaiah Miles were both 5-7, but the rest of the team combined to shoot 7-15.

In all of the negativity surrounding a blown double-digit second-half lead at home, it would be easy to gloss over Isaiah Miles' performance. But I can't. Isaiah was brilliantly efficient once again shooting the ball, and battled on the boards. He was the game's leading scorer with 31 and the leading rebounder with 9. He continues to solidify a First-Team All-Atlantic 10 nomination. The Hawks are 11-3 in largue part due to him, and if he had a bit more support on Tuesday, his Hawks could very well be 12-2 right now.

St. Joe's returns to Atlantic 10 action Sunday afternoon at noon when they host Rhode Island. The Rams are 2-0 in league play, with wins over Saint Louis and Richmond. They struggled in OOC play when E.C. Matthews and Hassan Martin both went down. Martin is now back, and the Rams are dangerous. Sunday's game is a huge one for the Hawks, who need to rebound from Tuesday's disappointing loss and get back on the right track. I'll have a preview of that game up tomorrow.

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