Jensen: For St. Joe's Miles, a season of struggles and success

JENSEN20
Saint Joseph's forward Isaiah Miles celebrates against Cincinnati.

SPOKANE, Wash. - Isaiah Miles saw the replays that kept running on the big video screens inside Spokane Arena, as game officials looked at the same sequence on a monitor at the scorer's table. His thought: Let's start the celebration.

"I knew . . . His fingertips were still on it," the St. Joseph's Hawks senior said later.

His own catch-and-shoot three-pointer, the one Miles will look back to his whole life, was going to stand up as a game-winner over Cincinnati, 78-76, for the first St. Joe's NCAA victory in a dozen years. Except teammates kept telling Miles to calm down. If the officials didn't see it their way - if they decided that Bearcats dunk would count - St. Joe's had to be ready for overtime.

Obviously, there turned out to be a Hawks celebration, on both ends of the country.

All because Miles swore off cheeseburgers.

Go back to what the senior forward said in January when it was time to report on the most important Big Five development this season, the emergence of Miles as a big offensive threat to accompany St. Joe's star DeAndre' Bembry, which really changed everything after a 13-18 season "Burgers," Miles said that day, early in the Atlantic Ten season, about what was the biggest difference.  "I don't eat burgers any more. . . . I stayed clear away from fast food - that's a huge change."

I asked him what he missed most (other than being called Chubby Boy by his Hawk teammates)?

"Pizza, burgers, french fries," Miles said. "All that fried food. . . . Bacon cheeseburgers from Wendy's, the old Baconator. Right across the street."

That's because he could take his Hawk dining card to the Wendy's across City Avenue. "In a sense, it was free," Miles elaborated that day. "Free Baconators whenever you wanted it."

That explains why when you ask Miles about the reaction he's caught after his Cincinnati shot, he'll tell you, "Just from calling me the Prophet Isaiah, people calling me, texting me, saying, 'Thank you, thank you.' Guys mad at me for messing their bracket up. Guys telling me they're going to eat a Baconator in my honor."

Diet was only part of the change for Miles, who had showed up as a big recruit. Phil Martelli remarked that day in January about "the extraordinary offensive rebounding" that Miles suddenly had become capable of after working himself into top shape.

Martelli, whose team faces top seed Oregon on Sunday night in the second round, made it clear Saturday that the recent growth for Miles has very much been a psychological one, too. Asked how Miles has handled his personal success this season, the Hawks coach started out by saying, "The flip side is, I saw him last year handle disappointment, and he didn't handle it very well. We played Denver last year. We set up a little wrinkle for him, last-second shot, the ball went and came out, and we lost. I don't think he made a basket the next three games. He was despondent."

This season, Martelli said, he would describe Miles as "a happy guy. . . . Success breeds success."

This season, there should have been room for a guy who averaged 18.4 points and 8.1 rebounds on the all-Atlantic Ten first team. But that slightest of slights was made up for when Miles was named most outstanding player of the A-10 tournament. So the shot that will now define Miles was built from both struggle and success. A Baltimore guy, Miles mentioned Carmelo Anthony as a player he tried to pattern himself after on the court, and also Reggie Miller - "just moving without the ball."

DeAndre' Bembry, who got Miles the ball for the last shot after two defenders stayed closer to Bembry on a screen, talked about Miles had hit so many shots just like that. "I think it was just a bigger moment for him."

Miles took his time getting to his spot. There was no hint of panic in his movement without the ball, the Hawks down one, the biggest spot of his life.

"I've been practicing that since seventh grade and middle school," Miles said late Friday night, early morning already back home. "So just step into the shot and make the shot."

mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus