A monster. A beast. Unstoppable. Whatever adjective you want to use to describe the night Saint Joseph’s sophomore DeAndre’ Bembry had against UMass on Wednesday — and his play all season long — probably isn’t enough. Bembry, a 6’6” forward, poured in 33 points, ripped down 14 rebounds and played all 40 minutes the Hawks 82-71 road win at the Mullins Center.
The thing is, he doesn’t care about praise, awards or individual achievements, and didn’t dwell on his numbers after the game. All Bembry cared about was the win.
“All I care about is we got the win,” said Bembry.
It was the latest chapter in Bembry’s utter domination of the Minutemen, as the Charlotte, North Carolina native has now scored a total of 58 points and grabbed 22 rebounds in two games against UMass this season.
“I can’t point out what exactly I’m doing right, but I’m just playing my game,” said Bembry of his success against the Minutemen. “I like the pressure, like going by the players and making plays for other players or myself. But, I can’t really point out why it’s UMass.”
Coming into Wednesday, the reigning Atlantic 10 Co-Rookie of the Year and now Atlantic 10 Player of the Year candidate was leading the league in scoring at 17.8 points per game, while averaging 7.3 rebounds, 3.3 assists, 2.0 steals, and 38.6 minutes on the year.
“I was raised playing that type of basketball, the pressure all up on you” said Bembry of his ability to shred opposing defenses game planning around stopping him at all costs. “I just understand how to get by and just make a play for someone else or myself.”
Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli has been impressed with his star forward’s play for the past two years, but particularly his play as a captain this season.
“If we had a winning record, he’d be an All-American, but we don’t. No one in this league will hear me scream and shout if he doesn’t get Player of the Year in the league. I get it, the player of the year probably should come from the best team, and that’s not who we are,” said Martelli.
Bembry’s heroics helped the Hawks (12-15; 6-9 A-10) grab their first road win since Dec. 20 at Marist. Coach Martelli was proud of his team for sticking through the tough season as a unit.
“I wondered whose feelings would come out in the game, because UMass having put so much into the VCU game and Rhody [Rhode Island] last week, that’s a tough trip at Rhody, at VCU,” he said. “I didn’t know with us losing at Dayton and St. Bonaventure, whose spirit would come out, and I thought we gave a very spirited effort.”
In addition to Bembry’s play, Martelli also got a plethora of 3-pointers from his team (9-of-13 from downtown), which entered the night as one of the worst shooting teams in the Atlantic-10 from beyond the arc.
“I don’t know whether to be more excited about a road win or 82 points, because there have been weeks where we haven’t scored 82 points and that’s playing multiple games in a week. I thought we really did a nice job offensively,” said Martelli.
After scoring double figures in 23 consecutive games, including four double-doubles, Bembry said he didn’t care about his own stats, and just wanted to start winning.
“It’s just confidence with this team, really, that’s the biggest thing,” said Bembry of his teammates Chris Wilson and Jai Williams, who combined for 28 points. “I’m just worried about the wins, any one I’ll take, really. Throughout the whole year, most of the game that we lost, we’ve been leading the whole second half. We just have to learn how to finish the games out.”
Despite an at times trying season, Martelli and Bembry said they have never lost determination in finishing out the year on a high note.
“I’ve said this all year about our team, I’ve been disappointed not discouraged. Because they’re nice kids, they come to work hard, we have a special player, but I’ve just been so disappointed,” said Martelli.
UMass head coach Derek Kellogg added to the sentiment of Bembry’s huge night.
“We tried to do a lot of different things. We doubled him a bunch. Guys didn’t speak loud enough and he got open a couple times, but he still has to make those threes. He still has to make those shots, and I thought he did a good job of getting to the free throw line.”
Bembry was 10-for-11 in free throw attempts, getting to the line at will.
“I said it before the game, but I think he’s the best player – or pretty close to the best player – in our league. At least the two times we’ve played him, he looks like a guy that could play at the next level,” said Kellogg.
This has been a season for the record books in many aspects for Bembry, whose overall scoring average of 17.8 points per game is only bested by the likes of former NBA stars Jameer Nelson (20.6) and Delonte West (18.9).
Awards have been rolling in for Bembry as of late, including the National Jesuit Player of the Week on Feb. 5, Philadelphia Big 5 Player of the Week on both Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, and Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the Week on Jan. 26. But Bembry never pays them much notice.
“It’s not something that he worries about. When I talk to him about accolades and player of the week and all of that stuff, the only thing he looks me in the eye and says, ‘Did we win? If we win, then I’ll take the award,’” said Martelli.
In fact, Bembry felt like he didn’t deserve the Philadelphia Big 5 Player of the Week, because the Hawks had suffered a loss earlier that week, and wouldn’t even let Martelli announce the award to the team.
“We haven’t had many guys have a year like this, but at the end of the year DeAndre’ will want to be judged by wins and losses. So if it doesn’t go his way, that’s not why he put in all his time in spring and in the summer to get better,” said Martelli.
Bembry added the final exclamation point on the night with a monstrous dunk late in the game on Wednesday night, drawing a big reaction even from the partisan UMass crowd. But according to Martelli, individual attention and accolades have never been what gets his star forward going.
“It doesn’t mean anything, it doesn’t mean anything,” said Martelli. “He’s a champion, he was on a championship team last year, he was the Rookie of the Year, but he’d trade all of those for the championship rings.”