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Saint Joseph's controls La Salle in inner-city battle

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On the opening possession of their 11 a.m. tip-off against La Salle, Saint Joseph's got an alley-oop dunk from Ronald Roberts courtesy of a great pass from Halil Kanacevic.

That play set the tone for Saint Joseph's as the Hawks led during the majority of the contest in a 75-64 win over the Explorers at Tom Gola Arena.

After an 8-0 run by La Salle solely on the back of Tyreek Duren, Saint Joseph's went on a 12-0 run, taking a 16-8 lead after Roberts made a layup as the Explorers could not deal with the combination of Roberts and Halil Kanacevic in the first half after Jerrell Wright got into early foul trouble.

Saint Joseph's (17-7, 7-3 Atlantic 10) never relinquished the lead after their 12-0 spurt and extended their lead to double-digits as they headed into the locker room on a three-point make by Langston Galloway from at least seven feet beyond the three-point arc.

“Our seniors have been great since the summer," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said after the game after being asked about the job the Hawks seniors did in the first half. “We said at halftime that the seniors are taking us here.”

Meanwhile, La Salle (12-12, 4-6 A-10) struggled to score in the first half, as they hardly resembled the team that became a national media darling on their way to the Sweet 16 in last season's NCAA Tournament.

In the second half for Saint Joseph's it was the DeAndre Bembry show.

Bembry, who was held scoreless during the opening half, scored seven points in the opening four minutes of the second half as the Hawks used a 9-0 run to balloon their lead to 46-30 with 15:42 to play.

The Hawks would continue to control the game for most of the second half, keeping the lead in double-digits on most occasions.

However, La Salle did make a couple of runs in the second half to keep things interesting. The first run cut the Hawks 16-point lead in half as the Explorers scored eight points in a 52 second span, punctuated by a Tyrone Garland three-pointer, which made the score 56-48 with 10:57 remaining, prompting Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli to call a timeout.

Saint Joseph's responded by quickly scoring the next seven points, with a three-pointer from Bembry suddenly bringing the Hawks lead back to 15 with 8:37 on the clock.

In the closing minutes, La Salle used a 10-0 run to cut what was a game-high 16-point St. Joe's lead down to 6 as Taylor Dunn's third three-pointer of the game made it 68-62 with 2:12 left.

Saint Joseph's was able to withstand the late Explorers rally though as they made 7-of-8 free throws in the final 80 seconds to seal their seventh Atlantic 10 victory of the campaign along with their 13th win in their last 16 games.

It was a balanced scoring attack from the Hawks as all five of Saint Joseph's starters finished in double-figures with Galloway leading the way with 18 points while the freshman Bembry scored 16 points in the game, all coming in a sensational second half performance. Roberts netted 15 points while swatting away 3 shots, as he was the player who contributed most to Saint Joseph's first half success. Kanacevic had a typical Kanacevic-like game as he stuffed the stat-sheet with 10 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 4 blocks while Chris Wilson also finished with 10 points for the Hawks.

Wright led La Salle with 16 points as he also corralled 15 rebounds to record a double-double. Duren and Garland finished with 15 points apiece in the losing effort for the Explorers.

Two key factors in today's win for Saint Joseph's were taking care of the ball and knocking down free throws. The Hawks had 13 assists compared to just 8 turnovers while making 18-of-22 free throws in one of their best outings from the charity stripe all season.

Coming into the game, Joe Lunardi, color commentator for Saint Joseph's radio and ESPN's "bracketologist" had Saint Joseph's listed among the first four teams out of the NCAA Tournament, however, with today's win, one would think the Hawks could possibly have a spot in the projected field of 68 in Lunardi's next bracket.

Nevertheless, the NCAA Tournament push is on for Saint Joseph's as the Hawks are putting together their best stretch of basketball at a crucial period in the season.

Saint Joseph's is next in action on Wednesday evening as they travel to the Ryan Center in Kingston, R.I. for a 7 p.m. tip-off against Rhode Island.

The Hawks have three road games remaining on their schedule and Martelli put it best after the game by saying “our (Saint Joseph's) fate is going to be decided by how we play on the road.”

Saint Joseph's struggled to a 61-57 victory in the first meeting between the two teams just three weeks ago.

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