Saint Joseph’s, DeAndre Bembry pose big challenge for UMass

  • APSaint Joseph and DeAndre Bembry host UMass Wednesday night in Philadelphia. Follow staff writer Matt Vautour on Twitter (@MattVautourDHG) for in-game updates.

Thursday, January 28, 2016
AMHERST — Saint Joseph’s is not just DeAndre Bembry anymore.

A year ago, Bembry was the rock star and most of the time the rest of the Hawks were his nameless, faceless backing band.

When the UMass men’s basketball team heads to Philadelphia for Wednesday’s 7 p.m. game at Hawk Hill, it will see that St. Joe’s is more than just its junior forward/guard.

Senior forward Isaiah Miles is a leading candidate for the Chris Daniels Award, the Atlantic 10’s most improved player. He’s averaging 17.3 points per game and 8.2 rebounds per game. Senior guard Aaron Brown, a former teammate of Jabarie Hinds at West Virginia, is at 9.7 points per game.

But all that said, Bembry is still the engine that has St. Joe’s (16-3) at 5-1 in the Atlantic 10. Bembry averages 17.2 points, but his 18.8 ppg in A-10 games leads the Hawks. He’s second in rebounds (7.9) and leads the team in assists (4.7 per game) and steals (1.7).

In two losses last year, the Minutemen had no answer for Bembry. He had 25 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in Philadelphia, and then piled on even more in Amherst with 33 points, 14 rebounds and four assists.

“He’s playing even better now. He had 26 (points) and 12 (rebounds) vs. Fordham (on Jan. 16). He’s got to be right up there as one of the best players in the conference. I think you just have to try to make the game hard on him. Make him beat you from the outside,” UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. “Unfortunately, the last two years he’s hit 3s against us, even in his freshman year when we were playing off him. He’s played effectively and he’s done things even out of character against us at times. Some of it is that he’s just really good. Playing against the better players, you try to make it really hard on them and hope that maybe they’re not playing quite as well on that particular day.”

Seth Berger, who’ll likely get a turn guarding Bembry, looked forward to the challenge.

“Ever since I’ve been here he’s been their guy,” Berger said. “It’s always a good matchup. He’s a good player and it will be a team effort to slow him down. ... He’s a great player and great player aren’t just effective with their scoring. He defends, he rebounds, he passes the ball well. It’s a lot more than just containing his scoring because he does so many other things to affect the game.”

Kellogg said Bembry is as valuable to St. Joe’s as a notable NBA player is to his team.

“He plays kind of like LeBron James does for the Cavs. He’s a do-it-all guy who does everything,” Kellogg said. “I’ve said it for three years now that I think he’s the best or one of the best pro prospects in our league because of how big and multi-skilled he is. He does it on defense and he rebounds. He’s a great player. He’s the reason why they’ve made a jump from their run a couple years ago to where they are now pretty quickly.”

If the Hawks hadn’t lost a second-half lead to VCU, they’d be on a 13-game winning streak and would likely be ranked. Still, they’re on a five-game winning streak and are a contender for the league title. Their defense is always strong and this year is no different. Teams shoot 39.6 percent against them, which is the lowest in the conference. The 29.3 percent opponents make from 3-point range is not only best in the A-10, but 11th in the country.

Hawk Hill has been a tough location for the Minutemen, but Kellogg is hoping UMass might feed off the energy.

“It has been for me. They get a great crowd, they’re on top of you and they have a really good team. Those three things usually make for a tough game,” Kellogg said. “But I also think we’ve fared well in places when there’s been some decent crowds, other than maybe Dayton. Davidson had a good crowd that was on top of us and our guys responded. Maybe that’s what we need, to go on the road and play a top-30 RPI team who’s going to have a great home-court advantage.”

SNEAKERS — The UMass coaching staff will wear sneakers with their suits this week as part of the annual Coaches vs. Cancer event to “raise awareness, share the importance of nutrition and physical activity, and to promote the American Cancer Society as a place for people facing cancer to turn to for free information and help,” according to CoachesvsCancer.org.

HINDS MILESTONE — Hinds enters the game needing 13 to reach 1,000 for his career. That will include 482 in two seasons at West Virginia.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage