Hawks fly past Dayton

St. Joe's stepped onto the court Wednesday night at Hagan Arena to a frenzied home crowd, boasting a 21-4 record, and looking for the opportunity to claim a share of first place in the Atlantic 10. Just before 9 o'clock, the final buzzer sounded and Phil Martelli's bunch earned their marquee win of the season, downing Dayton 79-70. My takeaways are inside.

Wednesday night's win didn't punch St. Joe's ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Hawks are not necessarily guaranteed a spot in next week's Top 25. There are a few things that Wednesday night's win wasn't, but there sure are a lot of things that the win was. My takeaways from Hagan Arena are below:

1. That was one of the three best wins in Hagan Arena history. I would put it up against the Hawks' win over Dayton there two years ago and the Villanova and Creighton wins during December of 2011. It was arguably the best atmosphere ever in Hagan. The student section was rowdy and filled to the rafters. All in all, it was about as good a night on Hawk Hill as you've had in a number of years. And it was obvious that the players fed off that energy. When that final whistle blew, and DeAndre Bembry and Lamarr Kimble ran toward the student section, it was apparent how much they appreciated the fan support Wednesday night. St. Joe's has two home games left this year, and it would be great to see that energy and intensity replicated.

2. DeAndre Bembry is a warrior. It wasn't the best game he's played as a Hawk. He was 0-3 from three, 2-5 from the line, and 7-18 from the field. But last night wasn't about numbers, it was about his will. He willed himself to 13 rebounds. Bullied smaller defenders like Kyle Davis in the post to score in tight. He soared to a huge two-handed put-back dunk off an Aaron Brown miss that had Hagan rocking. DeAndre played all 40 minutes, finishing with 16 points, 13 boards, and 3 assists. His intensity and leadership can't be undersold. When your best player is also the hardest worker, the loudest talker on defense, the one cheering on teammates' successes, that's contagious. This team has followed Bembry's lead this year. And it's led them to a 22-4 record.

3. Lamarr Kimble loves the big moment. This time last year, Kimble was playing with Neumann-Goretti in the Philadelphia Catholic League playoffs. In fact, Neumann played, and won, their semi-final game at the Palestra last night. One year removed from that, Kimble played a major role in knocking off the 15th-ranked team in America last night. Fresh had 13 points and 5 assists in 21 minutes last night. He hit two critical three pointers and threw a highlight-reel alley-ooo to James Demery. You could argue that no shot was bigger last night than Kimble's three with 4:57 to play. Dayton had trimmed the Hawks' 13 point lead down to 6, forcing Phil Martelli to call a timeout to settle his squad. Out of the timeout, Kimble buried a three to extend St. Joe's lead back to 9 and shift all momentum back into SJU's corner. He was absolutely fantastic.

4. St. Joe's showed that it was able to survive an off night by Isaiah Miles, against a quality opponent. Miles has had a First Team All League type of year for the Hawks. The 6'7 senior is one of the most improved players in all of America. Wednesday wasn't his night offensively. Early foul trouble relegated him to the bench for much of the first half. In the second half, he struggled to find his stroke. Isaiah was 5-13 from the field, but 0-7 from three. While he didn't score as he normally does, Miles did corral 12 rebounds in 29 minutes, and also dished out 5 assists. The fact that he went 0-7 from three, and the Hawks were still able to win, should give them a real shot of optimism as they head into the season's final stretch before the Atlantic 10 tournament.

5. Phil Martelli coached a terrific game, and has arguably been the Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year. Two plays in particular stood out. Out of a timeout in the second half, he was able to use Bembry as a decoy and run a slip screen underneath that got Isaiah Miles an uncontested lay-up. It all happened so quickly, that it was almost easy to miss. It was drawn up in the huddle and executed perfectly. Then, in the game's final minute, he was able to get the ball inbounded to Miles once again as the Flyers needed to foul. Miles was fouled up 75-68, and his 2-2 trip to the line with 34 seconds officially sealed it. This is one of Martelli's best seasons at the helm. And this team is still hitting its stride.

6. St. Joe's is in a position to not only make the tournament, but play themselves up that seed line. At the moment, they are 22-4 with an RPI of 23. The Hawks now have wins over Dayton (9), Princeton (41), George Washington (47), and Temple (62). That's three top 50 wins and another top 100. The Hawks have an opportunity for another top 100 win on Saturday at Davidson. The resume is taking shape.

7. This is the true definition of a team. Five players placed in double figures with Bembry (16), Brown (14), Kimble (13), Demery (12), and Miles (12). Shavar Newkirk also chipped in 8. Javon Baumann came in and if you didn't watch the game, you'd see that he didn't score and had three rebounds. His impact on the game was so much greater than that. His work on the offensive glass led directly to a Papa Ndao three and to two other extended possessions. His minutes off the bench when Miles had foul trouble in the first half were enormous. This team got contributions from its stars and from the depths of its bench. A true team effort and a true team win.

8. Recruits were there, and they were engaged. 2016 commit Charles Brown was behind the bench with his father, cheering and applauding and into it. Unsigned Cardozo (NY) senior guard Aaron Walker was there. Academy of the New Church sophomores Marcus Littles, Matthue Cotton, and Justin Anderson were all there. Once again. They've become staples. All the recruits in there got a heck of a show.

I will have a full Davidson preview up Saturday morning.

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