But for Bembry, it is clear that the long flight was not the reason he wanted to win. It was for his teammates.
Part of the pair of Hawks’ veterans, with Isaiah Miles, that has sparked a resurgence on Hawk Hill after a 13-win season a year ago, Bembry poured in 20 first half points before taking on the role of a facilitator in the second half. With the clock winding down and Saint Joseph’s trailing Cincinnati 76-75, Bembry found Miles, who stroked a three to give the Hawks a two-point lead with just nine seconds remaining.
Cincinnati would make one last push, slamming the ball home at the buzzer for what would’ve tied the game and forced overtime. Octavius Ellis’ fingertips were still on the ball when the lights went red, however, and the referees ruled the basket no good.
Ball game. Saint Joseph’s.
“DeAndre’ found him,” Saint Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli said. “He had Caupain the whole first half. So he had 20 and Caupain did not score, until I took him out with like eight seconds left in the first half. “So he’s a really, really special player. But he’s even more special as a teammate and as a leader. Like they’re hopping around in there, when he comes in, and he said, ‘oh no, no, no, this is for Zeke, I want this for Isaiah.’”
After Bembry scored 20 points in the first act, Cincinnati turned its focus even more toward him. The junior – who earned Atlantic 10 Player of the Year honors along with a slew of other awards – didn’t flinch when the Bearcats threw double-teams his way in the second half.
Instead, Bembry displayed the balanced game that has garnered him all of those honors. Bembry dished out five second half assists to go along with four rebounds, two steals and one block to facilitate his teammates’ scoring.
“This wasn’t my first time being double teamed,” Bembry said. “Every time a team does that these two guys (Miles and Aaron Brown) step up. I told Zeke at the half, this is your half, and he came out and made some big shots. Checco came in, hit a big three in the corner, and one three and that’s what this group is all about. It’s a collective effort.”
With the Cincinnati defense’s attention turned to Bembry, Aaron Brown and Miles would find themselves with open looks and score 11 and 14 second half points, respectively.
Brown knocked down a three to put the Hawks ahead 75-71 with just 2:43 remaining, but Cincinnati would answer with five straight points to take the lead with 16 seconds left.
That’s when Bembry and Miles would connect. The culmination of four years of hard work and countless hours of practice, Miles would hit a three with just nine seconds remaining to give Saint Joseph’s a 78-76 lead.
“There’s a lot of shots that Isaiah has taken since April, to see that one go in, because he’s envisioned this,” Martelli said.
The Hawks would need a bit of luck to go along with their skill, however. After Ellis’ slam to potentially tie the game, the arena erupted.
For the next few moments, Saint Joseph’s and its fans would wait anxiously to see if Ellis got the shot off in time. Luck would be on the Hawks’ side on this evening, and the basket was ruled no good, sending Saint Joseph’s players, coaches and fans into a frenzied celebration.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” Miles said. “But I definitely want to credit DeAndre’ for looking for me. The play – and credit coach for the play. The play was drawn up well, and guys reacted off the pick. And pick and pop, I’ve been practicing that since seventh grade and middle school. So just step into the shot and make the shot.”
Now, thanks to Bembry and the rest of the Hawks’ veteran leadership, Saint Joseph’s earned a matchup with Oregon on Sunday with the opportunity to continue a special season on the line.
“He (Bembry) was – he’s been zeroed in,” Martelli said. “He’s just been, like the look in his eyes since last Saturday night, has been not that he would say it this way, but everybody in the country now knows his name. Even Mark Few will now say, ‘that kid with the afro? You mean Bembry.’ He will say Bembry.”
By: Kyle Babcock
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