On a wintry night where Saint Joseph's left everything out on the floor, it was not enough to overcome VCU as the Hawks fell 92-86 on Thursday night against the nationally ranked Rams at the Siegel Center in Richmond, Va.
VCU (15-3, 3-0 Atlantic 10) led for most of the game, but could not put a stubborn Saint Joseph's (9-6, 1-2 A-10) team away as the Hawks continued to mount charges to stay within striking distance.
The Hawks tied the game on two separate occasions in the second half before they were able to take the lead in the late stages. Langston Galloway converted on consecutive three-pointers and suddenly the Hawks had a 69-66 lead as a nervous hush overcame the normally raucous Siegel Center.
VCU would regain the lead on two separate occasions, but Saint Joseph's would not go away as C.J. Aiken threw down an alley-oop dunk off of a pass from Chris Wilson to cut the Rams lead to one with 2:09 left.
After an Aiken block on the defensive end, Carl Jones, fighting through severe leg cramps, knocked down a three-pointer to give Saint Joseph's a 76-74 lead with 1:28 left.
VCU's Juvonte Reddic hit one of two free throws 25 seconds later, handing the Hawks the lead with possession of the ball. Jones only hit one of two free throws, but Aiken came up with an enormous offensive rebound to keep possession alive. Aiken would eventually go to the free throw line and can both free throws to give Saint Joseph's a 79-75 lead with 28 seconds left.
After a Rams timeout, Troy Daniels, who had struggled from long range the entire evening, finally knocked down his first three-pointer of the game to cut the Hawks lead to one with 14 seconds to play.
With 13 seconds left Ronald Roberts went to the line for Saint Joseph's, but he only knocked down one of his two free throws, leaving the Hawks with a two point advantage. VCU's Darius Theus drove quickly past Wilson and coasted to the hoop for an easy lay-in to tie the game at 80 with 8 seconds left. Saint Joseph's failed to get a shot off in their final possession, forcing overtime.
Jones was on the bench to start overtime as he continued to fight leg cramps, while the Hawks seemed to use up all of their energy in the final minutes of regulation as VCU dominated the proceedings in the extra frame, scoring 10 of the first 12 points of the extra session to put the game out of reach for the Hawks.
Treveon Graham lead the Rams with 25 points in the victory on 10-of-17 shooting from the field while Theus and Reddic both added double-doubles for VCU with Theus scoring 22 points and dropping 10 assists while Reddic grinded out a 15 point and a career-high 17 rebound performance.
Saint Joseph's was led by Galloway, who scored 22 points, knocked down five three-pointers and played 44 of the game's 45 minutes, while Jones tried to gut it out through severe leg cramps to score 21 points. Aiken scored 15 points and grabbed 9 rebounds while Roberts had his seventh double-double of the season as he put home 14 points while corralling 12 rebounds.
Despite a valiant effort, this game is going to go down as another near-miss for the Hawks against nationally-ranked VCU, who is already proving to be a great addition to the Atlantic 10.
It seems that the theme remains the same for these Hawks as they were not able to make enough clutch plays down the stretch with a victory in reach. The Hawks were 4-of-6 from the free-throw line in the final minute while playing shoddy defense in the closing seconds to allow Theus an easy lay-up to tie the game.
These are the plays that are the difference between a team that is dancing in March versus playing a home game in the NIT in front of a listless and disinterested crowd.
While it is still too early to write off the Hawks chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament, they have let two golden opportunities for marquee wins slip by the wayside in the past eight days.
Almost only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades, it does not help a team reach the NCAA Tournament.
The Hawks still have to prove that they are not just an "almost" team.