Entering Wednesday the Saint Joseph’s Hawks had an impressive record of 21-4, but they lacked the “signature” victory that the NCAA tournament selection committee tends to look for in its deliberations. That changed at Hagan Arena, as Phil Martelli’s Hawks beat No. 15 Dayton by the final score of 79-70. Saint Joseph’s did get the win their résumé lacked, but in beating the Flyers they also ended Dayton’s nine-game win streak and tightened the Atlantic 10 race considerably.
As a result of the Hawks’ win they’re now tied with Dayton atop the A-10 standings, with VCU also boasting an 11-2 league record and St. Bonaventure a game back in the loss column.
SJU has a headliner in junior wing DeAndré Bembry, a versatile player who’s developed into one of the Atlantic 10’s best players during his time on Hawk Hill. But unlike last season, when the supporting cast was inconsistent and often left Bembry carrying much of the load on his own, Martelli’s received contributions from a host of players in the rotation.
Wednesday night five Hawks scored in double figures, led by Bembry with 16 points and 13 rebounds and Aaron Brown with 14 points. And Bembry wasn’t the only Hawk to post a double-double, as Isaiah Miles added 12 points and 12 rebounds to go along with a team-high five assists. Miles, who averaged 10.7 points and 5.1 rebounds per game a season ago, has been one of the most improved players in college basketball.
Entering Wednesday, Miles was leading Saint Joseph’s in both scoring (17.5 ppg) and rebounding (8.2 rpg) while shooting 52.8 percent from the field and 40.4 percent from three. Miles’ progression from last season to this has changed the equation, not only for Saint Joseph’s but also for the opponents faced with the task of slowing him down.
Miles is only 6-foot-7 but the Hawks use him at the five, taking advantage of his ability to face up defenders and step out to the three-point line. Miles missed all seven of his three-point attempts against Dayton, but the mere threat of him being able to hit that shot is something defenses have to account for.
But even bigger than Saint Joseph’s offensive versatility on this night was their defense, as they limited Dayton to 41 percent shooting and 8-for-31 from beyond the arc. On the season Dayton, while a good three-point shooting team, scores just over 28 percent of its points from three. Against the Hawks they settled for those looks too often, and some credit should be given to the defense for that.
Dayton, which is still without injured forward Kendall Pollard, will be fine moving forward and could end up winning the A-10 anyway. But this result was about Saint Joseph’s, a team that has looked the part of an NCAA tournament team for much of this season but lacked that “signature” win to back it up. Wednesday night, the Hawks took care of that issue.