Shortly after his second thunderous dunk in the final minutes of Saint Joseph’s 77-63 win over Saint Louis on Sunday, Hawks star DeAndre’ Bembry heard the chant coming from the student section at Hagan Arena.
“One More Year! One More Year!”
Bembry is only a junior but he continues to show why he could be an NBA player very soon.
On Sunday against a pesky Saint Louis team, the electric swingman with the killer ’fro matched his season high with 27 points, scoring 19 in the second half to fend off the Billikens’ upset bid (see Instant Replay).
And yes, he did hear the chant. His response to the fans?
“Um, yeah, I do have another year,” he said coyly. “Everybody knows that.”
Whether or not he declares for the draft, the Hawks are still primed for an exciting March with Bembry and senior standout Isaiah Miles in top form. With Sunday’s win, the Hawks improved to a blistering 24-5 overall and 13-3 in the Atlantic 10, good enough for a first-place tie with VCU atop the standings with two games left.
Miles finished with 18 points and, along with Bembry, helped St. Joe’s avoid what could have been a very ugly loss. Saint Louis pulled within three with seven minutes left before St. Joe’s closed the game on a 21-10 run.
“We can’t let any game just slide by,” Bembry said. “We went to Davidson [on Feb. 20] and gave one up there so we already know the feeling. We just want to finish out the season and try to come in first place. You have to win games to come in first place.”
While Miles and Bembry carried the load for St. Joe’s in the second half, other players came through with big plays too, as has been the Hawks’ M.O. all season. One of those players was freshman point guard Lamarr Kimble, who drained a big three-pointer and floater in the final six minutes to give St. Joe’s a little more breathing room as the Billikens pressed.
“I think this year, we’ve got so many pieces rather than last year when most of the games it was, ‘Give it to DeAndre’ and clear out,’” Miles said. “This year we have so many pieces. If two guys aren’t doing good, we’ve got three more guys who can step it up.
“It’s just the atmosphere. We all love each other. I consider all these guys my brothers.”
There’s no questioning the chemistry and talent on this Hawks team but head coach Phil Martelli still knows it can play better. He was especially disappointed with his team’s free throw shooting (19 for 31), turnovers (12) and “taking mental plays off" Sunday.
“That’s a credit to Saint Louis,” Martelli said. “Their young guys were not in awe.”
On paper, it certainly seemed like the Billikens (10-18, 5-11) would have been overmatched. Martelli, of course, knew better. And just in case he didn’t, he got a friendly reminder from his “assistant coach” and grandson Philip, who became one of the faces of March two years ago when he was caught on camera dressing like and mimicking the St. Joe’s head coach.
“My assistant was telling me today before we left, ‘I think you’re gonna be all right but Saint Louis is better than their record,'" Martelli said, glancing over to his grandson, who accompanied him to the postgame press conference. “That’s a 6-year-old telling me how to take care of things with my team.
“I would say this about this group,” he added. “They enjoy playing basketball together. It’s not really like I have to give them a fire-and-brimstone [pep talk].”
Martelli was certainly grateful that a star player like Bembry was able to carry his team to the finish line on a day the Hawks weren’t at their best. Even still, he was a little bit hard on Bembry, who finished with eight rebounds and six assists but also had four turnovers and shot 5 for 10 from the free throw line.
“I thought at the offensive end he was very calm,” Martelli said. “I thought he really competed on the backboard for us. I think his defense should have been better — not distracted but he wasn’t as attentive as he normally is defensively. And you can’t come out of a game with four turnovers.”
Martelli’s grandson/assistant was more pleased with the St. Joe's star. After the press conference, someone next to the 6-year-old told Bembry he turned to her after his second late dunk to say that was a “pro dunk.” Few would argue with that as the junior got ahead of the pack and finished an electrifying reverse that put an exclamation mark on the Hawks’ 20th win in 23 games.
“That was something I’ve never before done in a game,” Bembry said. “I’m not really a flashy guy. But I was just trying something new.”
It’s fair to say that the St. Joe’s fans loved it. And they’d certainly love to see more of it — in March and maybe for one more year after.