Hawks will tangle with UConn in NCAA's first round

St. Joseph's players raise the Atlantic 10 trophy after their 65-61 victory over Virginia Commonwealthat the Barclays Center. The win earned them a No. 10 seed in the East. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
St. Joseph's players raise the Atlantic 10 trophy after their 65-61 victory over Virginia Commonwealthat the Barclays Center. The win earned them a No. 10 seed in the East. RON CORTES / Staff Photographer
Posted: March 18, 2014

NEW YORK - The St. Joseph's players, coaches and fans cheered Sunday in a New York hotel room when they learned their NCAA fate, but it wasn't overly raucous because their emotional tanks had been emptied earlier in the day.

St. Joseph's (24-9) is the No. 10 seed in the East Regional and will face No. 7 Connecticut (26-8) in their first game Thursday in Buffalo.

"I am exhausted emotionally," said coach Phil Martelli, who will be taking his sixth St. Joseph's team to the NCAA tournament.

Martelli and his players admitted that they don't know much about UConn - a program that won three NCAA titles under former coach Jim Calhoun - but soon enough that will change.

"Any team to make this tournament will be a tough team," said forward Halil Kanacevic, who was named the most outstanding performer of the Atlantic 10 tournament after the Hawks won the title Sunday with a 65-61 victory over Virginia Commonwealth at the Barclays Center.

Winning that championship is what truly energized the players.

"We will enjoy our championship tonight and talk of UConn tomorrow and how they play and how we will attack them" Kanacevic said.

Guard Langston Galloway wore the net that was cut down after the VCU win around his neck and didn't seem eager to take it off.

"No, I won't be taking it off," he said. "I will cherish this and it will be back in [my hometown of] Baton Rouge soon enough."

As for the NCAA tournament, if the Hawks win their first-round game, they would likely face Villanova, the No. 2 seed, which opens with No. 15 Milwaukee.

The Villanova-St. Joseph's rivalry is as heated as they come locally. Villanova indirectly may have done the Hawks a favor after beating them, 98-68, on Dec. 7 at Hagan Arena.

The Hawks had a 4-4 record after that game but have gone 20-5 since. That could have been the proverbial wake-up call.

"We know we have a tough first-round game but would like nothing better than getting another shot at Villanova," said freshman forward DeAndre' Bembry, the Atlantic 10 co-rookie of the year.

First comes the matchup with the Huskies of UConn. The longtime Big East participants are now a member of the American Athletic Conference.

UConn lost to defending national champion Louisville, 71-61, in the American Athletic tournament championship on Saturday.

Coached by former 76ers player Kevin Ollie, the Huskies are led by conference player of the year Shabazz Napier, a 6-foot-1 senior guard who averaged 17.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. DeAndre Daniels, a 6-9 junior, averaged 12.4 points and 5.6 rebounds.

This is a difficult first-round game for St. Joseph's, but then again the Hawks are tough to match up against, too, with a point-forward like Kanacevic and a player like Galloway, who averages 17.5 points and is shooting 43.9 percent from three-point territory.

As for the venue, Martelli can only hope to have similar success to the last time he took a team to Buffalo in the NCAA tournament. That was the 2003-04 team with Jameer Nelson that advanced to the Elite Eight.

The Hawks were the No. 1 seed and won their first two games in Buffalo, beating Liberty, 82-62, and Texas Tech, 70-65.

This is St. Joseph's first NCAA appearance since a first-round loss to Oklahoma in 2008.


mnarducci@phillynews.com

@sjnard

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