By MIKE ANGELINA
Phil Martelli examined the postgame box score that was placed in front of him. It was wrong. It had Saint Joseph’s record off by half a game; it cheated them of the win they just earned—their biggest victory of the season, a 70-67 victory over Dayton.
The Hawks battled a Dayton team that, according to that same box score, (accurately) read that the Flyers had more wins than them. To keep their NCAA tournament hopes alive, Martelli knew his squad needed this win more than ever to end their six year “big dance” drought.
That is why he let out a giant exhale when his senior Langston Galloway buried a game-winning three with 19 seconds left to put St. Joe’s on top for good. Led by Galloway’s 31 points Friday afternoon in Brooklyn, the Hawks get to keep marching. Not just in the Atlantic 10 tournament, in which they advanced to the semi-finals, but almost surely now in that other big one next week.
This game was basically a play-in for that big one. The tournament seemingly does not have room for both these A-10 teams, so it was predicted the winner would get the at-large invitation to go dancing.
Both teams played like it. The lead was exchanged 16 times and was tied another five times as both squads fought for their lives to survive.
“Both these teams wanted to win,” Galloway said. “I think both teams gave it all, it went down to the end, I know everyone left it out there, so it was a great game.”
In the end, it was the Hawk that did not die.
Even when Matt Kavanaugh gave Dayton the lead with 39 seconds left, following a DeAndre Bembry miss out of a SJU timeout, they did not die. Martelli called a timeout and the team discussed what would be the play to save the season.
Down by two, the shot clock at 34, they had one chance on national television to show why they belong in the dance. Galloway came out of a triple screen, received the ball from Chris Wilson, bounced off Dayon’s Kyle Davis and finished.
According to Martelli, they did not run the play perfectly. The bottom of the net would not have known, as the ball sunk through.
Dayton took a timeout of their own to answer the Hawks, but there would be no 17th lead change. Devin Oliver, down by two, settled for a three-point jump shot with four seconds left. It was a bit too strong and as the ball landed in Bembry’s arms, Martelli threw his own arms up.
“I was just excited for my players,” Martelli explained. “That literally was a fistfight for 40 minutes. I asked them to fight for 40 minutes and they gave us everything they had.”
They completed their fight back to the tournament, earning their 22nd win which is their most in nine years. For their three senior starters, Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic , they almost surely will get their first taste at the big dance.
“[It’s great] just for the players, it’s a wonderful, wonderful group, and all success is due to them,” Martelli said of his team.
It did not look all too likely when they started out 4-4 and looked like a team that did not belong, getting blown out on their own floor by Villanova and losing to lowly Temple.
“This team, we’ve been through adversity all season,” Galloway said.
What followed after the unimpressive start was an 18-5 sprint, during which they seemingly proved they belong.
“We made a big push to try and make it to the tournament,” Galloway explained. “We just took it one game at a time, that’s what we do.”
If you ask Martelli, there is no question—they are going to get an invitation to be in the tournament. According to him, “it’s numbers, pure and simple.” He read off their resume, including a top-40 RPI and said there is no question they have earned a bid, especially making it to the final four of a very talented league.
“We played in this league and we’re in the semi-finals in this league,” Martelli declared. “Enough said.”
The Hawks have a chance to make things easier by simply winning the A-10 outright. Their next opponent, Saint Bonaventure, the No. 9 seed knocked off St. Louis earlier today and await them in the semi-finals. According to Martelli, it does not make the path any easier; though he admitted he wanted a crack at the best. Kanacevic agreed.
“No, not at all, the A-10 is a tough conference,” Kanacevic explained. “From the bottom of the league to the top it’s tough.
“It doesn’t matter each team is going to bring it, so you worry about every team.”
The semifinals game will take place at 1:30 p.m.