Last year every time Saint Joseph’s visited New York City, it ended in disappointment.
Last year they visited three times. Their first visit was part of the Preseason NIT where they lost to Western Kentucky on Thanksgiving day at Madison Square Garden. A trip to the Bronx to face Fordham ended in a 69-55 setback and Their stay at the Atlantic 10 tournament in 2015 ended at the hands of St. Bonaventure on Thursday night at Barclays Center.
On Tuesday they erased those bad memories and made new ones in the first game of the ACC-Atlantic 10 doubleheader, burying the Hokies in a 79-62 win.
“We traveled like this was a road game, this wasn’t a trip to New York and I don’t mean that in a negative way,” Hawks head coach Phil Martelli said as they enter a three day holiday break. “That was really a very, very focused effort.”
“I’ll salute the people here, it’s Tuesday at one o’clock and there was some juice in the building. We played the Garden last year at Thanksgiving and it was flat.”
With the victory over Virginia Tech the Hawks enter the break having won five games in a row, which they haven’t done since two seasons ago, when they won the Atlantic 10 tournament at Barclays Center.
One player particularly acute to the bright lights of Brooklyn is senior Isaiah Miles. He set almost every career-high imaginable in his 39 minutes of play, scoring 36 points, tying his career-high 15 rebounds, making 11 field goals and 11 free throws to go with four blocks, which equaled his previous high in the defensive stat. The last time the 6’7” wing set floor at the Barclays Center, he went for 19 points in their loss to the Bonnies.
When asked if he could feel like he was getting into a groove in the second half, as he eclipsed his previous high of 24 points, he said he did not have a good feel for it.
“Just because the jumbo tron is hard to see when you’re under it,” Miles said on why he didn’t feel like he knew his point total. “It’s hard to see your specific stats, but I was just playing. I wasn’t even focused on how much I had, how many rebounds I had, I was just playing just giving my all for this team.”
The Hawks missed their first seven shots before senior Deandre’ Bembry, who had 22 of his own to help lead the way, threw down a one hand slam in transition. He scored six of the team’s first 10 points and had 18 in the first half.
Saint Joseph’s wraps up their non-conference slate in a week with a game against Maryland Eastern Shore on Dec. 29. After that, it is on to Richmond and Atlantic 10 play, where they will hope to improve on their pick of 7th preseason and replicate the last time they had success in New York: when they beat VCU to win three in a row and earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.
“We were better today than we were in our last game against Illinois State,” Martelli said. “We must be better on Saturday than we were today, so that in March when we come back to the Barclays, we’re playing our best basketball of the year.”
Also check out the story at City of Basketball Love as the Philadelphia-based Hawks are off to their best start since the 2003-04 season, when they made the Elite 8 of the NCAA tournament.
Ryan Restivo wrote the America East conference preview for the 2015-16 Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook. He covers the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, the America East conference among others for Big Apple Buckets. You can follow Ryan on Twitter @ryanarestivo or contact Ryan at rrestivo[at]nycbuckets.com.