St. Joseph's (2-0) will meet Florida State in Saturday's 9:30 p.m. final. Florida State (2-1) beat Brigham Young, 88-70, in the first game.
“It was tough but we had to keep fighting,” said Hawks forward Halil Kanacevic, who had 15 points, eight rebounds and six assists. “…We have a great bond and the coaches believe in us and we are friends on and off the court and believe in each other.”
The Hawks made believers out of Notre Dame (2-1), a team ranked No. 20 by the Associated Press. “They are a really good team,” Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said of the Hawks. Notre Dame's Eric Atkins hit a three-pointer just as the shot clock expired to give the Fighting Irish a 66-58 advantage with 4 minutes, 2 seconds left. The Hawks tied it at 66 on Langston Galloway's reverse layup with 1:39 remaining.
Galloway had lost a tooth when he hit his head on the floor with 4:25 left in regulation but he quickly returned. “We went out there and executed over a Top 25 team and this will definitely boost our confidence,” Galloway said. Galloway scored 13 points, but it was his defense on Jerian Grant that stood out. Grant scored 10 points and hit 4 of 17 from the field.
The Hawks were paced by 6-foot-8 junior Ronald Roberts who had 21 points and 16 rebounds to earn game-high honors in both categories. More impressive was the fact that Roberts hit 11 of 16 free throws (68.7 percent). This is from a player who shot 47.4 percent from the foul line as a freshman and 55.3 last year.
“Me and coach (Dave) Duda have been working on my free throws since freshman year,” Roberts said. Roberts had seven points in overtime and went 5 for 6 from the foul line in the extra period.
“It is great, we talked about finishing all during the offseason,” Roberts said. St. Joseph's was playing without point guard Carl Jones, sitting out his final game of a three-game suspension (including an exhibition) for a violation of the university's community standards.
In his place, sophomore Chris Wilson scored 19 points, had three assists and just one turnover in 41 minutes. After the game coach Phil Martelli said that Wilson will remain the starter on Saturday even with Jones coming back.
Wilson hit 6 of 10 from the field with one three-pointer and all six of his fouls shots in eclipsing his former career high of 13 points set at St. Bonaventure last season.
“I have a little bit of different mindset this year and all the work I put in with coach Duda and on my own and I don’t feel I am quite the same player since last year.”
With the score tied, 66-66 late in regulation, Kanacevic missed a trey and C.J. Aiken was short on an off-balance follow.
The Fighting Irish missed three shots on the last possession, an off-target layup by Atkins and two missed follows by Jack Cooley, a 6-9 senior who had 14 points and 14 rebounds.
St. Joseph's scored the first five points in overtime on Roberts free throws. Finally, Notre Dame scored on an Eric Atkins jumper, cutting the Hawks' lead to 71-68 with 1:09 left.
Roberts scored inside on a feed from Kanacevic but Notre Dame's Grant sank a layup, cutting the margin to 73-70 with 29.5 seconds left.
Wilson was fouled with 21.1 seconds remaining and hit both free throws to raise the lead to 75-70. When Aiken blocked a Notre Dame three-point attempt, the Hawks were headed to the final.
Notre Dame entered the game just 10 for 38 from beyond the arc, but the Fighting Irish hit their first two three-point attempts and jumped to an 8-0 lead.
It was not the type of start the Hawks envisioned, but they quickly settled down and began hurting the Fighting Irish with three-point shooting of their own.
The Hawks took their first lead, 17-16, with 11:57 left in the first half on Kanacevic's second three-pointer of the game. He made just 10 treys last season but was 3 for 5 against Notre Dame.
St. Joseph's led by 37-36 at halftime and Notre Dame controlled much of the second half – until the final four minutes.
This was an early-season matchup with postseason intensity and drama
“That was November game?” asked Martelli. “It sure seemed like more than that for me.”
Contact Marc Narducci at email@example.com, or follow on Twitter @sjnard.