Tough win over Dayton should send Hawks to the dance

Posted: March 17, 2014

BROOKLYN - The Hawks took a punch in the mouth, quite literally; pushed back - again, literally - and, in the last minute, launched themselves into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in six seasons.

"That, literally, was a fistfight," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said.

They're still standing.

Regardless of what happens in the semifinal game today against ninth-seeded St. Bonaventure, St. Joseph's 70-67 win over seed fifth-seeded Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Tournament surely provided the last proof needed to convince the selection committee it belongs.

"We had a bad week last week," Martelli acknowledged.

This weekend could be as good as last weekend was bad. They handled the Bonnies 2 weeks ago in Olean, N.Y. Two wins in the tournament could absolve them for losing to George Washington and La Salle at the end of the regular season. An A-10 tourney title tomorrow and, hey, who knows?

The Hawks fell into a No. 4 seed in the A-10 Tournament when they lost those two games. Another loss might have meant a third straight trip to the NIT.

Instead, for the Hawks, it is a matter of NCAA seeding; a measure of respect the A-10 commands.

Is it a good league, well and tightly matched? That would boost the Hawks, give them a first-round chance, maybe close to their Philadelphia campus.

Is it a mediocre league, generally populated by common teams? That would mean a lower seed, and a very tough game, God knows where.

Yesterday, the Bonnies beat top seed Saint Louis, whom the Hawks had a chance to tie entering last Sunday's season finale. Dayton finished the season with 23 wins and had won 10 of 11, including a win at Saint Louis, then ranked 17th.

Martelli, ever canny, made his first order of postgame business to campaign for Dayton's inclusion in the NCAA Tournament; which, of course, would enhance the Hawks' profile.

"If justice is to be served . . . they'll get their name called on Sunday," Martelli said of the Flyers.

He then quickly turned to the defense of the late-game push-off by his star guard, Langston Galloway, which freed Galloway from Kyle Davis for the decisive three-pointer with 19 seconds to play.

"That's a pro move," Martelli declared.

Yes, it's a pro move . . . if the pros are Michael Jordan, of the Bulls, and Bryon Russell, of the Jazz. Had Galloway held the follow-through, Jordan's winner in 1998 would have been perfectly replicated.

Russell only staggered backward.

Davis went down like Katniss Everdeen's worst enemy.

"I mean, I might have moved him a little bit," Galloway said, rolling his eyes at Davis' exaggerated tumble.

Asked whether he had ever seen the Jordan play - he was only 6 when Jordan shoved Russell - Galloway replied, with a smile, "Oh, yes."

Galloway slurred a little, not because he played all 40 minutes, but because because he was sucking on a bloody gauze pad. He had been punched in the mouth. He absorbed an elbow from Dyshawn Pierre when Pierre launched a last-second shot, which left Galloway lying on his back at midcourt of the Barclays Center.

Which, for St. Joe's fans, would be about the equivalent of Eagles fans seeing LeSean McCoy lying on his back at the Linc. This wasn't as serious as what happened to Galloway here last season - he lost a tooth, which required replantation surgery - so he should be fine today, and, Martelli hopes, tomorrow.

That was only one reason why Martelli let out a whoop when they won yesterday. He genuinely likes this cast of players.

"I want to keep coaching them," Martelli said. "I want to keep being with them."

That will be tougher today and tomorrow. They got no bench points, mainly because, to be blunt, they have virtually no bench; which, when trying to win three times in 3 days, is a considerable obstacle.

The Hawks got only one bench rebound, three bench fouls and one bench turnover. But they did get four key bench minutes, from Papa Ndao. He replaced point forward Halil Kanacevic, who committed four fouls in the first 12:29 of the second half. The Hawks led, 61-57.

Papa replaced him . . . and, by the time Kanaceivc returned, the lead had grown to 66-60. It was the most important 4 minutes of the St. Joe's season.

It was important because Kanacevic and point guard Chris Wilson combined to shoot 4-for-17 for the game and hit one of six three-pointers. It was important because Ronald Roberts' normally poor free throw shooting turned horrific: 1-for-7.

Martelli called Kanacevic "the biggest" part of the Hawks' offense. Without him, the team let Galloway create and asked more of slashing freshman DeAndre Bembry, who finished with 15 points.

Dayton scored only three points in that 4-minute span.

"We defended fiercely without Halil," Martelli said.

They needed to.

Had the Hawk not survived that stretch, there might have been no push-off.

No fat lip.

And, most likely, no dancing next week.


On Twitter: @inkstainedretch


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