Hawks roll Rams for Atlantic 10 title

With just under two minutes to play in Sunday's Atlantic 10 championship game, Lamarr Kimble whipped a no-look pass to DeAndre Bembry, slashing to the rim. Bembry rose up and threw down a monstrous two-handed dunk to give the Hawks an 85-70 lead, and send them on their way to their second Atlantic 10 championship in three years. A full recap is inside.

Winning a conference championship is hardly easy. It's a grueling slate of back-to-back-to-back (sometimes even one more) games. On Friday afternoon, the Hawks came from 14 down at the half to defeat George Washington. St. Joe's then had to take the court 24 hours later to square off against the number 1 seed Dayton Flyers. After dispatching of the Flyers 82-79 Saturday, it was a VCU Rams team that had already beaten the Hawks this year in the title game. Thanks to 30 points from DeAndre Bembry and 26 from Isaiah Miles, St. Joe's got the best of VCU, 87-74.

St. Joe's senior Aaron Brown averaged 17.5 points in the Hawks' first two A10 tournament games, and he got things started for SJU in a big way Sunday. After DeAndre Bembry opened the scoring, Brown would score 10 of Saint Joseph's next 14 points. A lay-up 7 minutes in gave the Hawks a 16-10 lead over the Rams. It was Brown that got things started, then fellow senior Isaiah Miles that picked it up from there. With St. Joe'a leading 20-15, Miles, the Atlantic 10's Most Improved Player, would score the Hawks' next 11 points, giving them a 31-23 lead on a jumper assisted by Lamarr Kimble with 5:17 left in the first half.

VCU would cut into that Hawk lead, closing it to 35-30, but a DeAndre Bembry basket just before the half gave Saint Joseph's a comfortable 43-34 lead at intermission. Up 44-36 early in the second half, it was another Hawk that would string together a mini-run of their own. This time it was freshman forward Pierfrancesco Oliva, who admittedly has struggled of late. Oliva would score in close off a beautiful drive and finish, then knock down a left-wing three to give Saint Joseph's its biggest lead of the game at 49-36. Another bucket by Oliva moments later (he finished with 8) would see the Hawks' lead balloon to 15, at 56-41.

An and-one by Miles with 8:45 to play would give Saint Joseph's a 70-49 lead and seemingly total control of the game. Then something that none of us could have ever seen coming happened. Senior forward Papa Ndao, coming off a career-high 14 points Saturday, was whistled for a foul underneath the basket. Ndao lost his cool, and over about a 30-second span, completely went off the rails, getting not only one technical foul, but then another as he walked off the court. Ndao was ejected and escorted to the locker room by Hawk assistant Mark Bass. The result of his two technical fouls and original foul was six VCU free throws, of which they hit five, cutting the Hawk lead from 21 to 16. A bucket on their very next possession and suddenly VCU was right back in business, trailing 70-56, and on a 7-0 run fueled by Ndao's explosion.

VCU would cut that 21-point Hawk lead all the way down to 9, but they were unable to get over the hump. Up 77-68, DeAndre Bembry would score 7 of the Hawks' next 8 points, giving them a comfortable 85-70 lead with under two minutes to play. For the second game in a row, Bembry, the Atlantic 10's Most Valuable Player, led the Hawks down the home stretch.

It was a vintage performance for DeAndre Bembry. 30 points on 13-16 shooting from the field. 5 rebounds, 4 assists. Bembry was a maestro on the court Sunday. He had help though, and from more than one of his teammates. Isaiah Miles, who was named Most Outstanding Player of the Atlantic 10 tournament, posted a double-double of 26 points and 12 rebounds. Miles shot 11-16 from the field, 1-3 from three, and 3-3 from the line. After scoring 10 points in the early going, Aaron Brown finished with 13 points and 5 boards.

While no other Hawk scored in double figures, two freshman played significant roles. Forward Pierfrancesco Oliva finished with 8 points and point guard Lamarr Kimble had a team-high 9 assists. Kimble played with incredible poise all weekend, and was dynamic on Sunday. He had several no-looks, including the one to Bembry for the two-handed jam along with one to Isaiah Miles for the and-one lay-up that gave the Hawks their 70-49 lead.

On the VCU side of things, Korey Billbury and JeQuan Lewis led the way with 19 points apiece. Melvin Johnson, who was playing on a rolled ankle, finished with only 5 points, going 1-5 from deep. The Rams shot just 7-29 from three.

With the win on Sunday afternoon, St. Joe's reached 27 wins on the year. During a year where they were predicted to finish 7th in the conference, they finished 4th in the regular season, then won the Atlantic 10 tournament. You could argue that this season was one of Phil Martelli's greatest seasons as coach at Saint Joseph's.

Following the game, Martelli was interviewed by CBS' Allie La Force. When asked by La Force how long he thought this team can dance, Martelli replied, "Most of the night." The Hawks are dancing. They will play Cincinnati Friday night, in Spokane, Washington as an 8 seed. I will have a complete preview of that game up tomorrow. For now, your Hawks are dancing for the second time in three years. And doing so as Atlantic 10 champions.

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