With the final seconds ticking off the clock, Temple senior Will Cummings had the ball in his hands needing two points. Cummings, who already had nine second-half points to help an Owl comeback from 14 points down, drove the right side of the lane, his path wide open to the rim. Until it wasn’t.
Saint Joseph’s DeAndre Bembry flew across the lane from the opposite block, swatting Cummings lay-up attempt off the backboard with two seconds left.
“I knew when Cummings had it and was driving, he wasn’t looking to pass it,” the Hawks’ hero described. “I left my man completely and tried to go make a play.”
Teammate Isaiah Miles was much less reserved: “Dre is a freak athlete! When I saw him cut across the court, I knew he had it.”
Quenton DeCosey’s rushed attempt at a stick-back came up short for the Owls at the final horn, and Saint Joseph’s held on for a 58-56 win over Big Five rival Temple.
The game was featured two completely different St. Joe’s teams. The first half was, without a doubt, the best 20 minutes of basketball the Hawks have put together through seven games this season. The Hawks, who mixed in a lot of zone defense, forced nine Temple turnovers – four on St. Joe’s steals – and held the Owls to only 33 percent shooting in the first half. A Miles three from the corner in the waning seconds pushed the Hawks’ lead to 34-22 at intermission.
The second half, meanwhile, left much to be desired. St. Joe’s made only six shots in the second half, good for 25 percent. That low shooting percentage limited what the Hawks could do defensively.
“I probably should have used [the zone defense] more, but we were trying to use it off makes,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli explained. “We had no makes in the second half. We shot 25 percent in our own building. We’re not skipping out of here saying, ‘Boy are we a finished product.’”
Martelli revealed that the zone was not a one-game insert for Temple, saying that his squad works on it every day in practice. But he saw something in Temple’s offense that made him want to deploy it.
“A lot has been made about our shooting percentages, but lay our shooting percentage against their shooting percentage,” he said. “They were shooting lower percentages from field goals and from three…. Both teams were struggling. The zone made a difference in the first half.
“And then DeCosey did what an all-league, all-city player would do. He put the team on his back.”
DeCosey did just that for the Owls, scoring a game-high 22 points – 11 in each half. After the Owls fell behind by 14 early in the second half, he and Cummings led Temple all the way back, cutting the lead to one in the final seconds. But the Owls could never get over that hump, thanks to the play of Miles.
Though Martelli was highly critical of his Hawks’ intensity in a Big Five game, going as far as to refer to his team as “empty shells” with no emotion, Miles brought it tonight. The junior scored a career-high 20 points and collected a game-high nine rebounds, including five on the offensive glass.
“He’s done a great job, and a lot of it is that he’s been challenged,” Martelli explained. “Last year, he could float…. he didn’t matter. I had two all-league players that were going to play 35 minutes a night, and Papa [Ndao] moved ahead of him. Now there’s nowhere to hide.
“We stay on him constantly about not floating and answering the bell. That’s not the only game [where he answered the bell].”
Bembry, despite his heroic play at the end of the game, did not play so well throughout. He finished with 11 points and seven rebounds, but made only 3-of-15 shots on the night, including one make in nine attempts in the second half.
“Where the hell was he for the first 39 minutes?” Martelli asked. “That is exactly the message that will be delivered tomorrow, believe me.”
But in such a hard-nosed Big Five contest, a win is a win, especially with 10th-ranked Villanova on the horizon.
“Winning beats the alternative,” Martelli flatly said. “It’s not like I’ll sleep better having won, because we still have a lot to correct. But it’s a little bit easier to correct on a win.”
James Hill covers Saint Joseph’s basketball for Philahoops. Find him on Twitter @jrhill17 or leave a comment below.