PHILADELPHIA — Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli is focused on right now. A few more victories like this one, and March will take care of itself.
DeAndre’ Bembry had 16 points and 13 rebounds, and the Hawks beat No. 15 Dayton 79-70 on Wednesday night.
Saint Joseph’s (22-4, 11-2) had five players score in double figures in its fourth consecutive win and 11th in 12 games overall, bolstering its resume for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Aaron Brown scored 14 points, and Isaiah Miles had 12 points — all in the second half — 12 rebounds and five assists.
The Hawks also moved into a tie with Dayton and VCU for the Atlantic 10 lead with their first win over a ranked opponent since they beat then-No. 23 VCU in the A-10 championship on March 6, 2014.
"I think this was a big game because we were playing for first place," Martelli said. "I think the implications for March are that (Dayton’s) obviously a tournament team. We won a home game. I think the bigger implications are the road games."
The Flyers (21-4, 11-2), off to their best start in coach Archie Miller’s five-year tenure, had won nine in a row.
Charles Cooke scored 16 points for Dayton, and Darrell Davis had 13 points. Scoochie Smith had 11 points, seven assists and six rebounds, and Dyshawn Pierre added 10 points and 13 rebounds.
"I give them credit," Miller said of the Hawks. "I think they’re one of the best teams in the country. I think they’re gonna be primed for a great run in March because of the matchup problems they present."
With Dayton trailing by 13 with 6:25 left, Cooke scored seven points in a row to trim the Hawks’ lead to six. After Saint Joseph’s freshman Lamarr Kimble hit his second big 3-pointer of the half, Dayton responded with four consecutive points to make it 66-61 with 3:49 left.
But the rally fizzled from there, and Bembry helped seal the win with a putback slam with two minutes remaining.
Kimble finished with 13 points and James Demery had 12. The two connected for an alley-oop that put the Hawks up 52-40 with 12:03 left and fired up the filled-to-capacity crowd at Hagan Arena. Demery had another big, one-handed dunk with 20 seconds left.
"It obviously was a big game," Bembry said. "Of course they have the No. 15 on their back. Of course we think about stuff like that. But first off, it’s just about winning the game. It’s another game for us against another team that’s now tied with us for first place."
Dayton: Steve McElvene had 12 points. … Dayton’s only two A-10 losses have come in Philadelphia. The Flyers lost 61-57 at La Salle on Jan. 9.
Saint Joseph’s: The Hawks received 57 points in this week’s poll, good for 28th in the nation. The Hawks haven’t been in the Top 25 since their undefeated regular season in 2003-04. … The Hawks own the nation’s best road record at 9-0. They have three more games away from home this season, including two in the next week. … Brown scored the game’s first six points over the opening 1:30.
Even though the Hawks could be closing in on their first Top-25 ranking in 12 years and a possible Atlantic 10 championship, Martelli doesn’t expect his team to get distracted or look ahead to March.
"For whatever reason, maybe it’s the fact that the Pope visited here in September, but this group and I are on the same page," Martelli said. "We’re on the same sentence and we’re on the same word. This has nothing to do with March. This had only to do with the opportunity tonight to play in a big game."
Kendall Pollard, Dayton’s third leading scorer, missed his second game in a row with a knee injury. Miller isn’t sure if it would have made a difference in the final score, but he admitted it was very difficult to play without the 6-foot-6 junior forward.
"It’s without saying that Kendall’s one of our best guys," Miller said. "He’s one of the best guys in the league. And you need a tough-minded, physical guy like that in that type of game."