By JAMES HILL
The Hawks wanted this one. That was made evident by their play all night long.
Saint Joseph’s outworked VCU on the glass and on the defensive end of the floor en route to a 69-62 win over the Rams.
In the final minute, with the Hawks clinging to a three point lead, Rams’ leading scorer Treveon Graham went to the rim looking to bring his squad even closer. Instead, he found Saint Joseph’s forward Halil Kanacevic. The St. Joe’s senior had his feet set and outside of the restricted area, drawing the charge for the Hawks with 32.9 seconds to play.
“It just went through my head that I had to take the charge,” Kanacevic said. “If it went the other way, it would be my fifth foul. I went for it. I think I was there and I didn’t think I stepped on the line. I think it was a good charge…. The only thing I was worried about was if my foot was on the line behind me.”
The foul call sent the raucous Hagan Arena crowd into a frenzy. Langston Galloway and Chris Wilson knocked down all four free throw attempts in the final second to seal the win for Saint Joseph’s.
Following a performance against Saint Louis that included 17 turnovers, the Hawks emphasized taking care of the basketball in their practices leading up to this match-up with the Rams – a team who turns the opposition over more than any team in the country. Against the high-pressure HAVOC defense, the Hawks took care of the basketball. The Hawks turned the ball over 12 times – well below the 20-turnover average for VCU opponents.
Even then, most of the turnovers did not hurt the Hawks, as VCU only scored 12 points off the miscues.
“When we did turn the ball over, it wasn’t that effective the way they use it,” Kanacevic explained. “They need turnovers where they grab the ball from you and take it down for a lay-up. Our turnovers were a little different, where we’d have miscommunication on passes and pass the ball out of bounds. We did a good job playing their press.”
With the extra possessions, the Hawks were able to take over on the offensive end behind Langston Galloway. The senior dropped 24 points on 8-14 shooting to lead all scorers. Seemingly every time the Rams made a run at the Hawks, Galloway – who buried all three of his made three-pointers in the second half – had the answer.
“Coach trusts me with the ball and wants it in my hands,” he said. “He knows I’m the best option to help the team in any way possible, and that’s what I did tonight – set up my teammates and try to score.”
Saint Joseph’s was able to break open a tight game in the first half with a 14-4 run, turning a tie game into a 10-point lead late in the half. Galloway and DeAndre Bembry, who tallied six points apiece in the run, led the way for the Hawks.
Bembry finished with 18 points on the night on 8-of-13 shooting.
Saint Joseph’s really made its mark on the glass in the opening frame. In building their eight-point halftime lead, St. Joe’s claimed a 23-15 advantage on the boards – including nine offensive rebounds.
Ronald Roberts tallied nine points and nine rebounds. Kanacevic notched seven points, 10 rebounds, and seven assists.
The bench made a major impact in the game for the Hawks. Papa Ndao, the sixth man who averages 12 minutes per game, sat out with the flu. In his place, Daryus Quarles scored four big points, and Isaiah Miles and Evan Maschmeyer also found the floor giving the starters much-needed breaks against the VCU pressure.
“There’s the psychological part of it,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “If they’re going to run 10 guys out there, and we’re going to run five out there, that’s going to be a tough go.”
In the loss, Juvonte Reddic led the Rams with 17 points and eight rebounds. Treveon Graham dropped 13 points and eight rebounds, and Briante Weber tallied 11 points.
With the win, the Hawks put a major feather in their NCAA Tournament cap – giving them their second “quality win” in a week. The Hawks also broke a three-way tie for fourth place in the Atlantic 10 and remain three games behind first-place Saint Louis.
“After the Saint Louis game, we were definitely a little down on ourselves,” Kanacevic explained. “You can’t go 0-2 in this league in a week – it’s a killer to do that to yourself. It doesn’t matter who you play if you go 0-2 in the league in a week, you can go from 3rd to 7th. We just took the challenge.”
After a tough swing against the best competition the Atlantic 10 has to offer, the Hawks find themselves sitting where they want to be: in the mix with a fighting chance. They’ll now get a week off to rest up before the stretch run.
Postgame Press Conference: Phil Martelli
James Hill covers Saint Joseph’s basketball for Philahoops. Reach him at [email protected], on Twitter @jrhill17, or leave a comment below.