City 6 Preview 2014-15: St. Joe's turns to Wilson, Bembry

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City 6 Preview 2014-15: St. Joe's turns to Wilson, Bembry

Our City 6 men's basketball previews continue with a look at St. Joe's. Sunday, we looked at La Salle. Monday, we looked at Temple and Tuesday, Villanova. Tomorrow, Drexel. Above, our Big Man on Campus Series continues with Hawks guard DeAndre Bembry. 

In the offseason, Phil Martelli’s grandson was a superhero.

Batman. Captain America. Whatever costume the precocious 5-year-old could get his hands on.

But a few weeks ago, young Philip Stephen Martelli idled up to his grandfather — the head coach of the Saint Joseph’s University men’s basketball team — and asked if it was true that college hoops season was almost here. When the elder Martelli said that it was, the boy changed into a different kind of costume: a sweatsuit. Then, he went into an office and watched game tape.

“I think the superheroes will go the side,” Phil Martelli said, “and coaching the team will come back.”

While it may have gone into hibernation for a few months, the 5-year-old’s obsession with coaching college hoops — he was adorably caught on camera mimicking his grandfather during the 2014 Atlantic 10 tournament — was one of a few magical moments for St. Joe’s last March. So was the Hawks’ surprising run to the A-10 championship that caused their head coach to cry on the Barclays Center court, the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 2008, and an overtime loss to eventual national champion UConn in the Big Dance (though that last one still stings).

Now that a new season is here — St. Joe’s opens at home against Farleigh Dickinson on Friday — the excitement among the entire Martelli family is once again palpable.

But if the Hawks hope to return to the national spotlight in March, they’ll have to do it with a mostly new team as the three star players from last year’s championship squad — guard Langston Galloway and forwards Ronald Roberts Jr. and Halil Kanacevic — have all graduated.

“This has been different but it really has been kind of exhilarating in a way,” Martelli said. “I really do miss Halil telling me what I should be doing and what I should be saying. I do miss that part. But they’re such nice kids and they’re really good teammates that it’s been easy to deal with them.”

Galloway, Roberts and Kanacevic all had tremendous all-conference careers, so losing them will be a big blow. But the Hawks do have at least two reasons to be excited: a veteran point guard in senior Chris Wilson and a rising star in sophomore DeAndre Bembry.

Both started all 34 games for the Hawks last season, combining for more than 20 points per game. And both were named captains for the 2014-15 season, with Bembry becoming the program’s first sophomore captain since 1936-37.

The only reason for concern is whether too much is being asked of Bembry, a fantastic swingman with an equally fantastic 'fro.

“He’s an old spirit,” Martelli said. “He’s a basketball player and that’s how he wants to be seen. And he’s not afraid to take on the responsibility of being the first sophomore captain here since 1936 and being a defending Atlantic 10 champ. None of that seems to matter to him. But I am concerned. I do have it in the back of my head about holding him to a standard. Am I asking too much?”

One player that should ease some of his burden is freshman James Demery, who arrived on campus with as much hype and expectations as Bembry did last year. The two swingmen have a lot of similarities, too. They’re both 6-foot-6, from North Carolina and are terrific lockdown defenders.

Martelli even said that Demery will defend the opposing team’s top perimeter player, a role in which Bembry thrived last season and won’t necessarily relinquish easily.

“He said Demery might guard the best player, but I’m going to make sure I’m going to get on him most of the time too,” Bembry said. “I love guarding the best players on other teams. We can share it a little bit.”

Bembry and Demery are similar in another way — both need to work on their jump shots. Martelli said he’s been encouraging Demery to take more shots but is already preparing for his team to get much less scoring from behind the arc than last season when Galloway went a blistering 108 for 244 (44 percent) from three-point range.

When asked how the Hawks can replace Galloway’s shooting, Martelli was blunt.

“It’s impossible,” he said. “If you asked me our Achilles heel, it’s perimeter shooting. So we’ve had to change the way we play. We’re going to drive the ball more, make more layups, play a little more aggressively defensively.”

The Hawks certainly have the personnel to be a more aggressive team in the backcourt with Wilson, Bembry and Demery leading the charge. But the team still has a lot of question marks in the frontcourt.

Martelli didn’t reveal who will start, but with Papa Ndao missing the entire season because of an illness, 6-7 junior Isaiah Miles (3.0 ppg) and 6-8 sophomore Javon Baumman (1.5 ppg) figure to get a lot of minutes. West Virginia transfer Aaron Brown could also get some time at the “4,” and freshmen Obi Romeo and redshirt freshman Jai Williams are poised to see some action as well.

For what it’s worth, Wilson has liked what he’s seen from the young big men and predicted a big season for Miles in particular. And he’s counting on them to help him enjoy one more special season before graduating.

“I think the goal is still to win the Atlantic 10 championship and to make it to the NCAA tournament,” Wilson said. “Ever since I’ve been here, I don’t think that goal has ever changed. And I wouldn’t expect it to change now just because we have different pieces.”

Many things will have to go right for the Hawks to recreate the magic of last March, of course. But Martelli and his superhero-turned-coaching-assistant grandson are optimistic.

“Look, everybody loves their team right now,” the St. Joe’s coach said. “But we’re a little further ahead than I would have anticipated. And it’s because of what those guys — Halil and Lang and Ron — left behind in the approach to how you’re supposed to be a St. Joe’s Hawk.”

NCAA Tournament wrap: UNC edges out Kentucky on Maye game-winner

NCAA Tournament wrap: UNC edges out Kentucky on Maye game-winner

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Luke Maye hit a jumper with 0.3 seconds left, and top-seeded North Carolina held off Kentucky 75-73 to earn the Tar Heels' second straight trip to the Final Four and 20th all-time in Sunday's showdown of college basketball's elite in the South Regional.

The Tar Heels (31-7) will play Midwest champ Oregon on Saturday in Phoenix in the national semifinal.

North Carolina took control with a 12-0 run within the final 5 minutes. Kentucky's freshmen De'Aaron Fox and Malik Monk hit three quick 3s, the last two by Monk and his second with 7.2 seconds left tied it up at 73.

Theo Pinson brought the ball down, passed back to Maye. The sophomore from Huntersville, North Carolina, knocked it down for the win with his feet on the 3-point line.

The Wildcats had one last chance, but Derek Willis' inbound pass went out of bounds on the far end.

Kentucky (32-6) will miss out on the Final Four for the second straight year.

South Carolina beats Florida to reach first Final Four
NEW YORK -- It's only right that South Carolina's first trip to Final Four was earned through its defense.

A team known for a swarming zone used it effectively down the stretch to beat Florida 77-70 on Sunday and win the East Regional at Madison Square Garden.

Sindarius Thornwell scored 26 points for the seventh-seeded Gamecocks (26-10) against the fourth-seeded Gators (27-9) in the all-Southeastern Conference matchup.

South Carolina will face Gonzaga, the No. 1 seed from the West Regional, in the Final Four on Saturday at Glendale, Arizona.

"Gamecock Nation, we heard you loud and clear," coach Frank Martin roared as the team prepared to cut down the nets. "We'll see you in Phoenix."

The game was as close as expected until the final minute. There were 14 lead changes and 10 ties. The last lead change came on two free throws by Thornwell with 2:24 left that made it 65-63. Florida managed just three field goals over the final 3:55.

Thornwell, the regional MVP, followed the deciding free throws with a nice assist to Maik Kotsar for a 4-point lead. It seemed Thornwell, who scored eight straight points for the Gamecocks, was always where he needed to be including making a steal with 40 seconds left that turned into a 73-68 lead.

"I just made plays," Thornwell said. "Plays needed to be made down the stretch and I stepped up and made plays."

"Thornwell was just being Thornwell," Florida coach Mike White said of the SEC player of the year. "He's one of the best players in the country."

PJ Dozier added 17 points for the Gamecocks, Chris Silva had 13 and Kotsar 12.

It all totaled to a Final Four trip for Martin, he of the booming voice and terrifying faces.

Justin Leon had 18 points for the Gators who managed a 40-33 halftime lead on 7-for-12 shooting from 3-point range. But that was it. Florida was 0 for 14 from beyond the arc in the second half, a lot like the 0-for-17 effort the Gators had in their first meeting with South Carolina this season.

South Carolina, which forced Florida into 16 turnovers, finished 23 for 31 from the free throw line, including a 9-for-10 effort from Thornwell.

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Gonzaga reaches 1st Final Four; Oregon upsets Kansas

NCAA Tournament Wrap: Gonzaga reaches 1st Final Four; Oregon upsets Kansas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Tyler Dorsey poured in 27 points, Dillon Brooks added 17 and plucky Oregon ended Kansas' romp through the NCAA Tournament with a 74-60 victory Saturday night that gave the Ducks their first Final Four trip in nearly 80 years.

Dylan Ennis added 12 points for the Ducks (33-5), who took the lead with 16 minutes left in the first half and never trailed again, giving coach Dana Altman his first trip to the national semifinals.

They'll face the winner of Sunday's game between North Carolina and Kentucky in Glendale, Arizona.

Player of the year front-runner Frank Mason III had 21 points in his final game for the Jayhawks (31-5), who had rolled to the Elite Eight by an average margin of 30 points. But their dream season ended with a thud just 40 minutes from campus on a night where very little went right (see full recap).

Gonzaga beats Xavier to reach 1st Final Four
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Nigel Williams-Goss scored 23 points while orchestrating Gonzaga's efficient offense, and the Zags finally shook their overrated tag by routing Xavier 83-59 on Saturday to reach the Final Four for the first time.

Gonzaga (36-1) has been dogged by criticism through the years despite winning consistently, in part for playing in a weak conference but also for never making the Final Four.

On the cusp of history, the Zags took it head on with a superb all-around game to give coach Mark Few the one missing piece of his resume.

Gonzaga found the range from the perimeter after struggling the first three NCAA games, making 12 of 24 from 3-point range. The defense, a soft spot in the past, shut down the underdog and 11th-seeded Musketeers (24-14) to win the West Region.

The Zags will face the winner between South Carolina and Florida in next week's Final Four in Arizona (see full recap).