With VCU standing between the Hawks and their second Atlantic 10 Tournament Title in three years, Saint Joseph’s came out swinging.
Aaron Brown scored 10 points in the opening minutes to help Saint Joseph’s jump out to a 16-10 lead, and the Hawks’ veterans would keep their feet on the gas peddle from there. After taking a nine-point lead to the locker room at the half, the Hawks would grow their lead to as much as 21 on their way to an 87-74 win and the A-10 Tournament crown.
“But the basketball, like that was special,” Saint Joseph’s Coach Phil Martelli said. “The ball movement, the shot confidence, and you’re all right, it started right in the beginning, we took the ball at them, and we knew that they would be fierce.”
“Man, we just wanted to punch first,” Brown said. “In the previous two games, VCU got off to some hot starts and it really wasn’t close. “They weren’t really challenged as we could see. We just wanted to punch first and play from there.”
The veteran trio would continue to make a statement in the second half, as an and-one play by Miles allowed the Hawks to open up a 21-point lead with 8:45 to play.
With the game seemingly in hand, however, Papa Ndao would pick up a double-technical just seconds later to allow VCU to cut the lead to 16 without any time winding off the clock. The Rams would continue to take advantage of the Hawks’ mental mistakes in the next few minutes, closing within seven to bring back memories of the double-digit lead Saint Joseph’s had blown at home against VCU earlier in the year.
But with VCU pressuring, Saint Joseph’s veterans would step up in the clutch, as Bembry scored five straight points, capped with a monster dunk, to push the Hawks’ lead back to 15 on their way to an 87-74 win and the Atlantic 10 Tournament Championship.
Bembry led all scorers with 30 points, while also grabbing five rebounds and dishing out four assists, and Miles added a monster double-double with 26 points and 12 rebounds. Brown rounded out the Hawks’ double-digit scorers with 13 points, as the trio combined for 69 of Saint Joseph’s 87 points in a game in which the Hawks shot 64.8 percent from the field.
“The guys in this room, the guys in that room, the guys in the locker room, the guys who work hard, work our butts off in practice, those are the guys we’re playing for,” Miles said. “We’re not playing for the media, we’re not playing for rankings. We’re playing for each other and having each other’s backs. We really didn’t focus on any of that. That had no play on the season. We just played our game and we played hard.”
For their efforts in the tournament, Miles, Bembry and Brown were named to the All-Tournament team, with Miles adding Tournament MVP honors to his resume as well.
“Moments. Moments, moments, moments,” Martelli said reflecting on the win. “DeAndre’ (Bembry) is like the coolest dude, old spirit, and he was in tears on the court. Checco Oliva, hasn’t had the ball go in the basket in forever, and on the three-pointer that bounced, bounced, bounced and went in, the kid broke into a smile. Moments.”
Having picked up their second A-10 Tournament Title in the past three years, the Hawks earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, where they will look to make more moments against Cincinnati in Spokane on Friday, March 18.
By: Kyle Babcock
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