Despite a valiant effort late, the Saint Joseph's Hawks fell at the hands of the VCU Rams 82-79 in the Quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn on Friday night.
After a cold start, Saint Joseph's (18-13) stayed in touch with VCU (25-7) throughout the first half, never allowing the Rams to lead by double digits until the end of the opening half, when Darius Theus hit a jumper with two seconds remaining in the first half to give VCU a 33-23 halftime advantage.
The margin would have been closer had the Hawks carried over their hot free throw shooting from last night, when Saint Joseph's hit 84 percent of their free throws. However, Saint Joseph's struggled from the line, making only 8-of-15 shots from the charity stripe in the first half.
The backcourt trio of Langston Galloway, Carl Jones and Chris Wilson came out motivated, scoring the first 12 points of the half for Saint Joseph's as a three-pointer from Jones brought the Hawks to within three points at 38-35 with 16:58 to play, prompting VCU coach Shaka Smart to burn a timeout.
After the VCU timeout the Rams went on a quick 9-2 spurt, knocking down three shots from long range to extend their lead to 47-37 with 14:15 left. The three-point shooting would become a theme for VCU, as they hit 11-of-17 from long range during one stretch.
Saint Joseph's trailed by eight when the game's momentum took a huge shift. Halil Kanacevic was called for a flagrant foul after he inadvertently elbowed a VCU player in the face on a drive to the basket.
Despite protests from Hawks coach Phil Martelli, the call stood and VCU hit the two technical free throws and then a three-pointer on the ensuing possession which keyed a 7-0 Rams run which put VCU up by 15 with 9:57 remaining.
VCU led by as many as 17 points and seemed to be cruising to a victory in their first ever Atlantic 10 Tournament game. However, the Rams continued to take shots from three-point range early in the shot clock despite having a double-digit lead in the final moments.
Saint Joseph's took advantage of several rushed shots that VCU missed and a Galloway three-pointer with 1:31 left cut the VCU lead down to single digits, 72-63.
After missed free throws from VCU, Jones was able to draw fouls on consecutive possessions and after knocking down three of four free throws, the Hawks found themselves only down by six with one minute to play.
Despite the winning margin only being one possession for VCU, Saint Joseph's never truly scared the Rams late, although they did make the end of the game much more interesting than expected. VCU hit 8-of-10 free throws in the final minute to seal the victory.
Galloway and Jones combined for 54 points in a losing effort for the Hawks, with Jones scoring 29 and Galloway finishing with 25 points, 22 of which came in the second half. Kanacevic added 10 points along with 8 rebounds and 7 assists, but he also committed 5 turnovers against VCU's vaunted "Havoc" defense.
VCU had five players in double figures, led by Traveon Graham with 17 points. Troy Daniels scored 14 for the Rams, but was only 4-of-13 from three-point range while Rob Brandenburg ended up with 13 points on the night. Theus scored 12 points for VCU, as did Melvin Johnson.
VCU outscored Saint Joseph's in points off of turnovers 25-13 for the game, as the Rams forced 17 turnovers from the Hawks while SJU forced VCU into 13 turnovers on the evening.
The Rams advance to the Atlantic 10 semifinals as they await the winner of the nightcap between Temple and Massachusetts. VCU will play the winner of that game in the second semifinal scheduled for 4 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Saint Louis and Butler advanced from the afternoon session on Friday and will meet in the first semifinal on Saturday at 1:30 p.m from the Barclays Center.
Meanwhile, Saint Joseph's heads home after a disappointing 18-13 campaign. Instead of watching eagerly on selection Sunday to see if their name will be called for the NCAA Tournament, the Hawks will shift their focus to a potential NIT bid.
The NIT selection show is scheduled for 9 p.m. on Sunday and will be aired on ESPNU. For up to the minute information on the Hawks post-season run, follow me on Twitter for updates.