Hawks look to shake off poor finish

St. Joseph's Shavar Newkirk (left) steals the ball from St. Louis' Miles Reynolds in the first half March 1, 2016.

It's spring break this week on Hawk Hill. Emphasis on the break.

The talk after a St. Joseph's practice was all about staying calm, chilling out away from the court, in preparation for the Atlantic Ten tournament, which starts for the Hawks on Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, after a double-bye puts them in the quarterfinals.

The Hawks are trying to put behind them the worst stretch of their regular season, at the very end. After often playing like the best team in the A-10, the Hawks finished with two straight losses for the only time this season. The last loss, to Duquesne at home, nobody saw coming, and it cost St. Joe's a four-way share of the A-10 regular-season title.

It's a fine line on how to react to a loss to a team that had lost eight straight. (And it's not as if Duquesne suddenly was a different team. The Dukes showed up in Brooklyn on Wednesday night and lost to La Salle by 15.) But even bad teams sometimes get hot, which happened to Duquesne on Hawk Hill.

My question for Hawks coach Phil Martelli was whether the rough finish caused him to think about whether any significant changes were necessary. Only minor changes, he said. There was no question the problem was defensive. Martelli pointed out that opponents shot nine percentage points higher when they beat St. Joe's.

"It's been identified, and now it needs to be addressed," Martelli said.

A tweak, he said, included practicing a little more with the first team against the second team, instead of using the scout team more for defense.

"So that's an adjustment," Martelli said. "But there's not going to be a schematic adjustment. There's not going to be a lineup adjustment." In other words, he said, they are not suddenly going to be defending ball screens differently, that kind of thing.

He added after the practice, "I feel better now than I did on Saturday."

In conference play, St. Joe's ended up leading at defending the three-point line but fell to seventh in overall field-goal percentage defense. Martelli acknowledged the defensive problems weren't just against Duquesne. There was the Bonnies game before, and even the St. Louis game before that, although the Hawks eventually put that one away.

"Everyone will always look at your offense and say, 'Well, that guy's in a slump.' Our defense was in a slump last week," Martelli said.

As for NCAA ramifications, here's the guess. No guarantees, but the Hawks sure seem to have done enough already to hear their name Sunday. However, a quarterfinal exit could easily mean they'll also hear they're going to Dayton for a play-in game. The stakes remain high.

This week, DeAndre' Bembry was named A-10 player of the year and Isaiah Miles most improved player. A 24-7 season was not a fluke. Bembry said the Hawks can easily shake off the late stumble.

"We still have a big, confident group," Bembry said.

As for the break, Bembry said, "The break's cool."