The St. Joe’s Hawks managed to defeat the Cincinnati Bearcats in a game that had everything you could expect from March Madness.
In an NCAA tournament day filled with drama, the 8-9 matchup between Saint Joseph’s and Cincinnati did not disappoint. From the opening tip on, the game was physical and close, with neither team able to fully take control. For such a scrappy and tightfisted affair, it was fitting that when the buzzer sounded, we were still unsure of the outcome.
When the clock displayed 0.0, the game still hung in the balance due to an official review of the final basket. Senior Isaiah Miles hit a three-pointer with nine seconds to go, giving the Hawks a 2-point lead. Cincinnati, with a chance to tie the ballgame, roared down the court, eventually finding the open man with about a second to go. That open man – Octavius Ellis – slammed the ball home just as time expired. The referees initially ruled it a good basket, but they elected to review the play. The players and fans in Spokane soaked up the suspense as they waited to find out whether or not there would be an overtime period. The officials determined that the ball was still in Ellis’s hands when the buzzer sounded, meaning the Bearcats were headed home. St. Joe’s had captured its first NCAA Tournament victory since their 2004 run to the Elite Eight.
Just as Jameer Nelson and Delonte West came up big in the ’04 tournament, the ’16 stars of Saint Joseph’s were magnificent in this opening-round win. DeAndre’ Bembry, the Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, was spectacular, appearing capable of hitting shots from anywhere in the gym. He finished with 23 points on 14 shots, and his passing was equally as impressive. Bembry had five assists for the game, none more remarkable than the cross-court feed to Aaron Brown for a three-pointer with 2:43 on the clock. Isaiah Miles helped keep the momentum going for the Hawks with a charge a few possessions later. Bembry, Brown, and Miles ended up combining for 55 of the team’s 78 total points.
SJU held a four-point advantage until Cincy senior Farad Cobb sliced into the lead with a three-pointer. A few plays later, the Bearcats took the lead, 76-75, on a flush by freshman Jacob Evans. Evans was the best Bearcat on Friday night, making five of his nine three-point attempts en route to 26 points. Following his big dunk, Miles hit his aforementioned huge three to give the Hawks the lead for good.
Saint Joe’s had struggled throughout the entire game to deal with the tremendous size of Cincinnati’s front line. The Bearcat big men faced double teams nearly every time they caught the ball in the post, and they were mostly successful in navigating these traps. Cincy shooters regularly got open looks off of the extra attention in the post, and Coreontae DeBerry absolutely cut up the Hawks’ defense on the low block. DeBerry converted all six of his field goal attempts and ended up with 18 points. Fortunately, the Hawks’ offensive firepower was just enough to overwhelm this size disadvantage.
On Sunday, Phil Martelli will lead his Saint Joseph’s squad into battle against the No. 1 seed Oregon Ducks, with both squads looking for a spot in the Sweet Sixteen. The Ducks had little trouble dispatching their first-round opponents, the Crusaders of Holy Cross, winning by a score of 91 to 52. The game will be played at approximately 9:40 pm.