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Saint Joseph's edges VCU for first Atlantic 10 Championship since 1997

Phil Martelli was overcome with emotion as he won his first Atlantic 10 Championship since 1997.
Phil Martelli was overcome with emotion as he won his first Atlantic 10 Championship since 1997.
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Langston Galloway, Ronald Roberts and Halil Kanacevic came into the season with one goal; quieting the doubters around the Saint Joseph's program and getting to the promised land of the NCAA Tournament.

The Saint Joseph's players and coaches celebrate winning their first Atlantic 10 Championship since 1997. The Hawks defeated VCU 65-61 on Sunday afternoon at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.
Photo by Mike Lawrie/Getty Images

Its unlikely the three seniors will mind adding an Atlantic 10 Championship to the list.

Galloway scored 19 points and came up with key plays at key times in leading Saint Joseph's to their first Atlantic 10 Championship since 1997 with a 65-61 win over VCU.

In truth, all three of the above mentioned seniors came up with enormous contributions over the course of the game, as well as during the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn.

Saint Joseph's (24-9) held the lead during most of the first half, extending their advantage to a game-high eight points after a dunk by Roberts put the Hawks up 21-13 with 6:31 to play before halftime.

Despite eight turnovers forced by VCU's (26-8) "Havoc" defense, Saint Joseph's took a 28-24 lead into the locker room.

In one sequence early in the second half, it appeared that the Hawks may let the game slip from their grasp.

Saint Joseph's had a 3-on-1 break, but Wilson threw an errant pass to Roberts before the Hawks eventually turned the ball over, which led to a Rob Brandenberg three-pointer. It was a five-point swing during that possession and the game was tied at 35 as a result.

VCU took their first lead of the game just a couple of minutes later on a three-pointer by Traevon Graham, making the score 43-40 with 12:34 to play and prompting Phil Martelli to call a timeout.

After VCU took a game-high six-point lead, Saint Joseph's scored six straight points to tie the game at 48 with 7:32 remaining. The spurt included back-to-back buckets by Kanacevic on the inside.

The game came down to the final minutes with both teams continuing to trade blows, neither team led by double-digits in the entire ballgame.

With the score tied at 54, out of a Martelli timeout, Galloway knocked down a step-back three-pointer to give the Hawks a three-point advantage. It was a gutsy shot with just seven seconds left on the shot clock.

“Coach and the team puts a lot of trust on me, so I stepped up to make that shot,” Galloway modestly admitted after the game.

On the ensuing Hawks possession, Galloway withstood heavy pressure from the VCU defense, providing a pass to DeAndre Bembry which led to an open slam from Roberts, giving Saint Joseph's a five-point lead with 88 seconds to play.

After forcing a turnover, VCU fouled Galloway with under a minute remaining. The Hawks senior guard knocked down a pair of free throws, giving Saint Joseph's a seven-point lead.

In the final moment, VCU would get the Saint Joseph's lead down to three, but would not get any closer as Saint Joseph's came away with their first Atlantic 10 Championship since 1997.

After the game, Phil Martelli was overcome with emotion, coming to tears on multiple occasions. After the Hawks were trounced by Villanova in December by 30 points, the pressure from the fans was as high as ever on the long-time Hawks coach. Martelli responded by doing perhaps the best coaching job of his career from that point on.

“These guys have had character since they got together in June, they had character tonight," Martelli said after the game. “We didn’t play that well tonight, but we competed our butts off.”

Martelli also reflected on a difficult year for his family while his wife Judy was smiling and similarly overcome with emotion, prompting Phil to say, “Its been a long year, we’ve had a lot of family situations, I’m happy for her too.”

In addition to Galloway's contributions, Kanacevic and Roberts were also immense as they both notched double-doubles in the game with Roberts scoring 15 points along with grabbing 11 rebounds while Kanacevic scored 11 points and corralled a game-high 14 boards.

Kanacevic was named the Player of the Tournament, but in a classy move, invited all of his teammates up with him to accept the award. Galloway and Roberts were also named to the Atlantic 10 All-Tournament team.

One non-senior's contributions also cannot be ignored as the freshman swing-man Bembry played beyond his years, particularly with his defensive effort over the course of the season. Bembry is typically on the opposition's best player defensively in addition to a solid offensive effort which included 13 points and eight assists with a facial dunk over a VCU player proving to be a highlight-reel moment for the Hawks.

Brandenberg finished with 18 points along with three made three-pointers for VCU while Graham also finished in double-figures with 15 points along with 9 rebounds.

But this day would be about the Hawks, who overcame consecutive losses to George Washington and La Salle heading into the conference tournament to come away with an A-10 title. Much like Providence in the Big East, the Hawks garnered the automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament, taking care of business when it mattered the most.

Saint Joseph's received a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament and will face Connecticut on Thursday in Buffalo, NY in an East Region match-up.

After Saturday's game Martelli told the media he told his team that they would rest and come back today to get rings and nets.

Mission accomplished for the Hawks long-time coach and his team.

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