"A game of inches" is a popular cliche used to describe sporting events. Seemingly small and minor details often are the difference between a team continuing its season and a team going home with their dreams dashed.
On Thursday night in the First Round matchup between Saint Joseph's and Xavier, the old tried and true cliche certainly rang true.
With 1.4 seconds remaining and Saint Joseph's holding a one-point advantage, Xavier had one final chance to come away with a victory.
The Musketeers needed to convert a classic March buzzer-beater, going the length of the court to knock off the Hawks.
The inbounds pass from the far baseline was over every player's head, but bounced off of the side of the backboard and into the waiting arms of Xavier's Isaiah Philmore, who had a point blank look from two-feet away from the basket to give Xavier the win.
Philmore hit the front of the rim with his shot as the Hawks held on for a 58-57 win to advance to the Quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament against VCU on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
The final shot was just one of the small details that went Saint Joseph's (18-12, 9-8 Atlantic 10) way over Xavier (17-14, 9-8 A-10) on Thursday evening.
Saint Joseph's shot well from the free-throw line in the contest, knocking down 16-of-19 from the charity stripe, making 84 percent of their foul shots. Carl Jones in particular was clutch from the line, overcoming his season-long struggles from the stripe to knock down 8-of-8 there in this game.
In fact, the Hawks set up the final sequence with a couple of made free throws. Langston Galloway drove to the bucket in the final seconds and was fouled with 1.4 seconds to play. Galloway coolly knocked down the first free throw before Xavier Chris Mack called a timeout in an attempt to ice the Hawks junior guard.
Fortunately for Saint Joseph's, Galloway had ice water running through his veins, as he calmly swished the second free throw, which ultimately gave the Hawks the win.
The first half was closely contested as neither team led by more than four points. Galloway converted a traditional three-point play with just under five seconds to play in the half, which gave the Hawks a 28-25 lead heading into the locker room.
However, things began to unravel for Saint Joseph's for a stretch during the second half, as four turnovers in a five possession span helped ignite a 13-3 Xavier run, with a three-pointer from Brad Redford giving the Musketeers a 44-36 edge with 11:20 remaining.
Saint Joseph's responded with a 12-0 run of their own which would shift the momentum in their favor. Halil Kanacevic had an enormous impact on the rally, scoring seven points during the spurt as well as coming up with key offensive rebounds as the Hawks erased a large deficit on the glass to come away with a 29-28 rebounding advantage for the game. A corner three-pointer from Jones gave Saint Joseph's a 48-44 lead with 7:55 to play.
With just over two minutes in the game, Xavier re-took the lead on the strength of two Justin Martin free throws, putting the Musketeers in front 55-54. Just twenty seconds later, Jones was able to draw a foul for Saint Joseph's and knocked down a pair of free throws to put the Hawks back ahead.
With 1:07 on the clock, Xavier's freshman point guard Semaj Christon drew a foul and calmly knocked down to free throws to put Xavier back in front.
Saint Joseph's turned the ball over on the ensuing possession as things began to look bleak for the Hawks in the final stages. However, a strong defensive possession from the Hawks forced a Xavier shot clock violation with 13 seconds left, with Galloway drawing a foul and hitting the game-winning free throws on the following Hawks possession.
Saint Joseph's was led by Galloway, who fought through first half foul trouble to lead the Hawks in scoring with 14 points. Kanacevic fouled out with two minutes to go but had a great all-around game as he netted 11 points while grabbing 7 rebounds and dishing out 6 assists.
Jones scored 11 points despite only connecting on one of his ten field goal attempts. However, that was good enough for Jones to move past Ahmad Nivins to reach third on the all-time scoring list at Saint Joseph's.
Despite only scoring six points, the performance of Ronald Roberts should not go unnoticed as he also grabbed eight rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end, as his dogged determination showed down the stretch for the Hawks.
Former Monmouth standout Travis Taylor led all scorers with 16 points in a losing effort for Xavier. Redford canned four three-pointers on his way to 14 points while Christon finished with ten points but the impressive freshman struggled from the field, only knocking down 3-of-14 field goals on the night.
Saint Joseph's will look to avenge a difficult loss from earlier in the season against VCU on Friday night. The Hawks could not a hold a late lead in their first match-up with the Rams, ultimately falling in overtime despite a valiant performance.
It is a certainty that the only way for Saint Joseph's to gain a berth in the NCAA Tournament is by winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Only one quarter of the job is done, but after a one-point victory over Xavier, The Hawk remains alive.