Since VCU came into the Atlantic 10 last season I don't think there is a team that has played them with more tenacity than Phil Martelli's Saint Joseph's Hawks. The Hawks battled VCU a year ago in Richmond to a 92-86 overtime loss with essentially a six man rotation, then they fell 82-79 in Brooklyn in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals against the Rams. St. Joe's finally got one in the win column earlier this year with a 69-62 win in Philadelphia.
We got a solid Atlantic 10 Championship match up today because of the brief history and competitiveness of these two schools. VCU took down Richmond and George Washington to get to the championship, while the Hawks bounced Dayton and St. Bonaventure.
The Hawks started the game on an 11-4 run capped by a Ronald Roberts Jr. dunk that forced a Shaka Smart timeout at the 13:45 mark. VCU responded by tying the game at 11 when Juvonte Reddic threw down a breakaway dunk after missing a similar one earlier in the game.
The 11-11 tie would be the closest VCU would get to leading in the first half as St. Joe's went into halftime up 28-24. Halil Kanacevic had a particularly impressive half with 7 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 assists. Much like George Washington's Patricio Garino, Kanacevic gives the Rams a point forward to deal with on the court. While they may generate a good deal of turnovers, 3 on Kanacevic in the first half, it's an added dimension that seems to help against HAVOC.
Rob Brandenburg nailed a three at the 15:40 mark to wake the Rams up from the ice cold 1-for-7 first half performance beyond the arc. The three tied the game 35 and eventually Treveon Graham had a three of his own to give the Rams a 43-40 lead and force a Martelli timeout with 12:37 remaining.
VCU looked like they make take control of the game when they expanded their lead to 48-42 but Phil Martelli stuck with his team on the floor and didn't burn a timeout. Martelli was rewarded with a 6-0 run that forced Shaka Smart timeout just before the under eight minute media timeout.
Neither team performed well from the free throw line but Reddic's two misses with just less than four minutes to go really hurt the Rams. The sequence allowed DeAndre Bembry to get a hoop plus the harm to put St. Joe's up 54-52 with 3:17 to play.
A huge three Langston Galloway followed by a wide open dunk by Ronald Roberts Jr. gave St. Joe's a 59-54 with 90 seconds left. VCU's implosion continued when Reddic stepped out of bounds with a 1:16 left to give the ball back to the Hawks and eventually put the Rams in a 7 point hole.
A terrible, ill-advised shot from Treveon Graham followed by a huge block by Roberts Jr. sealed St. Joe's first conference tournament championship since 1997 and their first trip to the NCAA Tournament since 2008. Kanacevic finished the Hawks 65-61 win with 11 points, 14 rebounds, and 4 assists. St. Joe's, who only played six players the whole game, were lead by Langston Galloway with 19 points.
VCU will now wait to see where they'll be going in the NCAA Tournament after losing in the A10 Championship for the second straight year. Melvin Johnson, who missed today's game is a question mark for the rest of the year.