(Photo Credit: Derik Hamilton, USA Today Sports)
By Chuckie Maggio @chuckiemaggio
As if the St. Bonaventure-St. Joseph’s men’s basketball rivalry wasn’t fierce enough, Hawks forward James Demery added some kindling to the fire on Sunday night.
In a since-deleted tweet preserved by a fan’s screenshot, Demery made his feelings about Bonaventure’s Reilly Center perfectly clear.
“Ion [sic] get what all the hype is about with the Bonnies crowd… they really not that loud,” the 6-foot-6 junior forward said.
The majority of Bonaventure fans’ scorn is normally directed towards Hawks coach Phil Martelli, who made national headlines after SJU’s 114-63 win at the Reilly Center in 2004 by calling a Bonnies fan behind the Hawks’ bench a “nitwit” and “moron” for telling him to stop pressing.
The 62-year-old Martelli is a permanent Bona villain who is preparing to coach his 40th game against the brown and white since he became head coach in 1995. The 21-year-old Demery is a temporary one who, based on the deletion of his post, has at least an idea of what’s in store when he enters the 50-year-old building for the second time.
Demery is the Hawks’ leading healthy scorer with junior Shavar Newkirk out for the season. To help snap a five-game losing streak against the Bonnies, he must try to block out the inevitable jeers, chants and signs and continue to carry a big load offensively. It’s not easy being the main target of the Wolfpack student section, especially in its first game together since Dec. 10.
Joe’s (9-9, 2-4 A-10) hasn’t won a conference game since a 70-55 dispatching of Fordham on Jan. 7, dropping the last three conference contests after a 2-1 start. The other league victory was a 68-63 decision against George Washington, while three of the four losses have come by single digits: an eight-point loss to George Mason, a four-point loss to Richmond and a five-point defeat at UMass. The only outlier was an 88-58 drubbing at Rhode Island.
Hawk Hill was decimated by the departures of DeAndre’ Bembry (early NBA Draft entry and first round selection) and Isaiah Miles (graduation) in the offseason, as the duo was the cornerstone of an Atlantic 10 Tournament title.
The only Atlantic 10 schools to lose a first round NBA pick and make a postseason tournament the next season (as an A-10 member) were UMass in 1997 and St. Joe’s in 2005. So it goes in a league where rebuilding, rather than reloading with one-and-done blue chips, is the cost of doing business.
A down year was expected, but season-ending injuries suffered by Newkirk, Pierfrancesco Oliva and Lorenzo Edwards have made it even harder for Martelli’s squad to compete. Newkirk was averaging just over 20 points a game, about 30 percent of the team’s output.
The Hawks have no representatives in the top 10 of any A-10 scoring or shooting category. Only George Washington, Fordham and Saint Louis have averaged fewer points or shot worse from the field this season.
Doing his best to pick up the slack is red-hot freshman Charlie Brown, who has displayed a bit more athletic prowess than the Peanuts character he shares a name with. The 6-foot-6 Philadelphia native has averaged 15 points and 6.5 rebounds in the last four games and has not fouled out this year despite logging over 31 minutes a contest. On Monday, Brown was named A-10 Rookie of the Week for the second time this season.
“Brown is like a freshman who doesn’t play like a freshman,” Bonnies coach Mark Schmidt noted.
Sophomore guard Lamarr Kimble joins Demery and Brown in the converted “Big Three.” Kimble, another Philly native (SJU has four on its roster), is averaging about 13 points, four assists and four rebounds in A-10 play. He proved to be unafraid in the biggest test of the non-conference slate, dropping 15 points on 6-of-14 shooting in the loss at Villanova on Dec. 3.
This isn’t a very deep Hawks team anymore, but it has enough talent to keep Bona honest.
“Everybody’s going through injuries,” Schmidt acknowledged, after experiencing injuries in his own program. “You talk to Phil and Phil won’t make any excuses, we certainly aren’t making any excuses.
“It’s the Atlantic 10, and they have good players. It’s not just Newkirk, just like us- it’s just not a one-man team. They’ve got a really good coach who knows what he’s doing, they’ve got good players and when one goes down it gives another opportunity for someone else to step up. That’s how they look at it, that’s how we look at it, that’s how every coach looks at it.”
The Bonnies currently hold the same record last year’s squad had attained 18 games in: 12-6. Though the 2015-16 team had lost three straight at that point, it would go 10-1 to close the regular season.
If Bona is going to spearhead another regular season conference title run, it has to continue to improve defensively, among other factors. Allowing under 60 points to Fordham and Saint Louis built confidence, as the team has allowed the sixth-fewest points per game in A-10 play, along with ranking third in rebounding margin.
Junior guard Jaylen Adams said the coaching staff implemented some new defensive wrinkles in practice, taking full advantage of the one bye weekend each team receives in the league schedule. Mark Schmidt’s overall Bonaventure record after at least seven days between games is a sterling 26-13.
“I think we had some things to figure out as a team this week. We focused a lot defensively, put some new things in,” Adams said. “We also were able to recover our bodies a little bit, so I think this week couldn’t have come at a better time.”
One thing the A-10’s leading scorer wasn’t interested in doing was responding to Demery’s bulletin board material with any trash talk of his own.
“I mean, I’m just gonna let our games do the talking,” he said. “We’re gonna get out there, we’re gonna have fun tomorrow.”