By Sean Kennedy
Connecticut 89, Saint Joseph’s 81
The hawk may never die, but St. Joe’s will dance no more after losing a heart-breaking overtime battle against the Huskies in the Round of 64. After the Hawks played the role of front-runner the majority of the game, UConn tied the game up in the final minute behind an unexpected offensive source, as Amida Brimah pulled down an offensive rebound to convert the old-fashioned three-point play. Following an uninspired Hawks possession, the Huskies had a good look on a three-pointer from Shabazz Napier which just rimmed out, and we were treated to bonus basketball.
Unfortunately for St. Joe’s, Phil Martelli’s gamble of relying on his starters so heavily came back to bite him as Halil Kanacevic fouled out of the game early in the extra frame. Not only did the Hawks offense fall apart without Kanacevic in there to serve as the central passing hub of the attack, but without his big body down low, UConn began relentlessly attacking the rim, getting fouled and successfully hitting their first 14 free throws in overtime. Despite his team-high 24 points, the Hawks actually did a good job all game slowing down Huskies star Shabazz Napier, holding him to just 7-22 shooting. However, he converted an acrobatic lay-up for a three-point play with a little more than a minute left in the game that stretched the lead to 7 and effectively served as the dagger in the Hawks’ season. The combined efforts of Langston Galloway and Chris Wilson, who scored all 11 St. Joe’s points in overtime between them, were not enough to keep pace.
The big-three seniors certainly acquitted themselves well in what will now be their final collegiate game. Kanacevic was vital to the St. Joe’s offense all game, finishing with 12 points and a team-high 5 assists. Halil had announcer Bill Raftery enraptured about his footwork while pivoting down low and finding Roberts for a lay-in. Speaking of Roberts, he put up another double-double with 15 points and 10 rebounds, throwing down a number of ferocious dunks to energize the team and the Hawks supporters in attendance in Buffalo. Finally, Galloway remained hot from the outside, hitting 4-7 threes on his way to a team-high 25 points. When the initial disappointment of this loss wears off, this group will look back on what a successful campaign they had this season. Not only did they earn the school’s first A-10 tournament title in over a decade, but they helped bring the program back to national prominence by giving a storied program like Connecticut all they can handle over 45 minutes. DeAndre Bembry, Chris Wilson, and company will have some big shoes to fill in the fall.
Villanova 73, Milwaukee 53
Villanova’s first tournament game won’t go in the vault as a Comcast Instant Classic, but the Wildcats did enough across 40 minutes to survive and advance, which is more than 16 teams out there can say this morning. The first half was an ugly exhibition of offensive basketball as both teams shot 30% or worst from the field, with Villanova putting up a goose-egg from the perimeter (an abysmal 0-12 from three before halftime). The play was so uninspired that the Lundquist-Raftery announcing team went off minutes about how Milwaukee forward Malcolm Moore had to play with one shoe for a couple possessions. Fortunately for the Wildcats, the defense was there for them all game, as they forced 8 Milwaukee turnovers to still hold a 4-point lead going into the break despite their offensive struggles.
Finally, with 12 minutes remaining in the game, someone in a white jersey was able to take the lid off the hoop from downtown, as Kris Jenkins canned Villanova’s first three of the game. The freshman provided a spark off the bench, hitting 3-4 threes for 11 points (1 off his career-high) in just 19 minutes of action. A big reason the Wildcats are so dangerous is they have 4 guys coming off their bench who can legitimately provide a big impact for the team on any given night; their depth is second to none of teams in the tournament. With someone finally hitting some outside shots, what was a modest advantage turned into what looks like a blowout on the final tally. Darrun Hilliard had a solid game with a team-high 16 points on 6-11 shooting, and JayVaughn Pinkston had his usual workman-like approach in the paint, recording 13 points, 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks. The Wildcats will face Connecticut Saturday night, and with the odds favoring them having a better shooting night going forward, it’s good they got their clunker out of the way and still escaped with a victory.