Lots to like from St. Joseph's in defeat

Posted: November 18, 2013

Maybe it was too early. If the St. Joseph's Hawks had come back late and squeezed this one out over Creighton and the only returning first-team all-American player in the country, the hype could have gotten ahead of the team.

I'd have written it myself - how St. Joe's could turn out to be the best team in this city.

Too early. Too early.

The Hawks did, in fact, come from eight down on Hawk Hill Saturday night, taking a one-point lead with 27 seconds left. A Creighton guard found a seam, got almost to the rim, then got his shot smashed out of bounds with six seconds left by a dynamic St. Joe's freshman.

Then the Hawks didn't finish the deal. A defensive foul-up left Doug McDermott open to drill a shot from just inside the three-point line. St. Joe's forward Halil Kanisevic tried to clean up the mess and ended up fouling McDermott. Suddenly, Creighton was up two, 4.9 seconds left. And the Bluejays stole the inbounds pass.

Final score: Creighton 83, St. Joe's 79. It was a big-boy game for November. McDermott, used to playing in the Missouri Valley Conference, compared St. Joe's to Wichita State in terms of its athleticism. No small praise. He also called the packed-in insane asylum maybe the toughest opposing gym he had experienced.

From a local perspective, maybe the most impressive sight was in the St. Joe's locker room right after it was over. Freshman DeAndré Bembry walked into the room after his 20-point performance and immediately noted that he was the one who was supposed to stay with McDermott on that final play, instead of switching off a screen.

He had blocked that shot seconds earlier, had thrown down a monster dunk, hit four three-pointers, played with steel at both ends.

And then he stood up and said what he hadn't done.

"I messed up an assignment," Bembry said.

Hawks coach Phil Martelli didn't personally ID Bembry as the culprit on the play. He just said, "The area that we have to grow - not the players, but we have to grow - is our communication. We didn't do a good enough job in our defensive communication, and that will come. And it'll be incumbent upon us as a coaching staff to work that communication so that this team can be what I believe they are, which is a good unit."

Martelli added, "We have to do better than that. We have to win that game."

Of Bembry, the coach said: "That's not a game for an 18-year-old. And he doesn't think and play like an 18-year-old."

Even after a loss, Martelli didn't hide his belief in his team. He called it "a really great team," then explained what he meant.

"Now there's pieces missing - there's basketball pieces," Martelli said. "But these guys, you can't wait to get to work with them."

He's hearing a lot of "I got it, my fault," Martelli said of timeout huddles. "Practices have been crisp. . . . Now we'll see."

They had talked beforehand, Martelli said, about how this game had to represent growth. (Remember, they were blown out of Creighton's gym last December and were never in it.) No moral victories. Players walked off shaking their heads.

But there was so much to like. Kanisevic feeding teammates for all those threes. The rugged defense on McDermott. A weakside rebound by Ronald Roberts Jr. and two free throws that gave the Hawks that brief, last-minute lead.

Hawk Hill was packed with big-time basketball minds. You didn't have to walk too far afterward to hear somebody ask about who is going to be the player who forces the action in the last minute. (A legit question, not a nitpick.)

The point, however, was that everyone sees a lot of upside with this team. It's not too early to point that out.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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