PHILADELPHIA -- The Saint Joseph's Hawks haven't been ranked since Jameer Nelson was in uniform. But that could very well change next week.
The Hawks picked up their best win of the season Wednesday night, knocking off the No. 15 Dayton Flyers 79-70 at Hagan Arena. The win propelled the Hawks into a three-way tie for first place in the Atlantic 10, along with the Flyers and VCU, all of whom are 11-2 in conference play.
The victory -- which snapped a nine-game winning streak for Dayton -- significantly boosts St. Joe's (22-4, 11-2) NCAA Tournament resume, though that was not the main concern of coach Phil Martelli afterward.
"I think this was a big game because of playing for first place," Martelli said. "That's obviously a tournament team, but we won a home game. I think the bigger implications are the road games. And we have practice (Thursday) at 3:30, whether we won or whether we lost, we have practice at 3:30 and a game on Saturday. It's a really good win because it was against a good team with a really terrific young coach and they had been on a run."
Junior forward DeAndre' Bembry scored a team-best 16 points and also grabbed 13 rebounds for the Hawks, who shot 45.3 percent from the floor and put up 79 points against the league's best defense. St. Joe's -- which got 57 points in the latest AP poll, the 28th-most in the nation -- had five players score at least 12 points, including senior guard Aaron Brown, who had 14, and freshman guard Lamarr Kimble, who chipped in 13 and five assists off the bench.
"It obviously was a big game," Bembry said. "Of course they have the No. 15 on their back. And it's definitely a game that we'll need further on after the (Atlantic 10 Tournament). Of course we think about stuff like that. But first off, it's just about winning the game. It's just about winning the game. It's another game for us against another team that's now tied up with us for first place."
Dayton had a rough shooting night from distance, hitting only eight of their 31 3-point attempts. Junior guard Charles Cooke, Dayton's leading scorer, had 16 points to pace his team. The Flyers were without the services of junior forward Kendall Pollard (11.0 ppg, 5.0 rpg), who missed his second consecutive contest with a knee injury.
But Dayton also had trouble defensively, an area where it has thrived most of the season. The team came into the contest allowing only 64.0 points per game -- the 20th-best mark in the country -- but had a hard time slowing down a physical St. Joe's attack, which went right after the Flyers. The Hawks finished the game with 24 free throw attempts (and made 16), while Dayton was just 2-for-7 from the foul line.
"That to me is as good of a team as we've seen this season," Dayton coach Archie Miller said. "They're a different type of team because of the way their skill level is. I think Coach has got them clearly from an offensive perspective really in a great rhythm because of their movement. They're hard to guard. I thought the thing that was really surprising to me though was how they overpowered us for about 40 minutes. Physically I thought they dominated us. They were commanding in how they approached the game."
The Hawks led by as many as 14 in the second half, but the Flyers were able to narrow that gap to five at 66-61 with 3:24 left on the clock. A quick 6-2 run -- capped by a Bembry put-back dunk -- out of a timeout gave the Hawks some separation, and they hit enough free throws in the final two minutes to hold on.
St. Joe's let an eight-point second-half lead on its home floor slip away last month to VCU, but the team was not about to suffer the same fate on Wednesday.
"I just think we were older at that point," Martelli said. "We got in that predicament because our defense broke down. It hadn't broken down all game, but we were satisfied, and that's not a good thing."
Both teams, as well as VCU, have five games remaining. The Hawks will not face either team again in the regular season, while the Flyers and Rams will play each other in the A-10 finale on March 5.
For Dayton, which has sustained both league losses in Philadelphia after losing to last-place La Salle on Jan. 9, Miller wants a regular season title, but he doesn't want his squad looking too far ahead.
"Right now, if you get consumed with the pressure of trying to do something five games down the line, you're gonna add more heat to what you're doing," Miller said. "That's not what we've done all year. Our deal right now is to get back to work. The first time we've lost in a while. It stings. Hopefully it stings in a good way."
NOTES: Dayton junior F Kendall Pollard, who averages 11 points per game, missed his second consecutive game with a knee injury. ... St. Joe's duo of senior F Isaiah Miles (17.5 ppg, 8.2 rpg) and junior F DeAndre' Bembry (16.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg) came into the game both in the top 13 in the A-10 in scoring and were also two of the conference's seven best rebounders. ... Dayton's current ranking of No. 15 is the highest the team has had all season. The Flyers have been in the AP top 25 four times this season. ... Wednesday marked St. Joe's first win over a ranked opponent since beating No. 23 VCU on March 16, 2014, in the Atlantic 10 Tournament, and its first home win over a ranked team since topping No. 21 Massachusetts on Feb. 1 of the same year.