NEW YORK -- There was a feeling around the Barclays Center that St. Joseph’s has a free pass to the Atlantic 10 Tournament final because the Hawks have to face No. 9 seeded St. Bonaventure instead of top seeded St. Louis in Saturday’s semifinal.
Don’t believe it will be easy for a second.
St. Bonaventure (18-14) is a desperate team, one that must win this tournament in order to secure a bid to the NCAA Tournament.
Fourth seeded St. Joseph’s (22-9) should be in following the Hawks 70-67 quarterfinal win over No. 5 Dayton.
Not only did the win enhance the Hawks chances, but it hurt Dayton’s chances. The 23-10 Flyers are an excellent team and may end up in the tournament but not over St. Joseph’s. That because this was the third win of the year over Dayton.
St. Joseph’s won at St. Bonaventure, 83-74 on March 1, but as we have seen, nobody should read too much into regular season results.
One of the keys will be stopping Bonnies 6-4 senior guard Matthew Wright.
In Thursday’s opening 82-72 tournament win over La Salle, Wright was held in check, scoring just eight points and shooting 2 for 8.
He turned that around against St. Louis, with 22 points. Wright shot 5 for 8 from beyond the arc against the A-10’s top defensive team.
And in the regular season loss to St. Joseph’s, he had 27 points, but shot 3 for 9 from three-point range.
St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli and his players were asked immediately after the win over Dayton if they felt St. Bonaventure did the Hawks a favor by eliminating St. Louis.
“We approach St. Bonaventure, how we approach St. Louis, it doesn’t matter,” said Halil Kanacevic, who had nine points, 12 rebounds and three assists over Dayton. “We worry about ourselves first and then we worry about them.”
Martelli was asked if he is breathing a sigh of relief not to face St. Louis.
“Nope,” he said to laughter.
The only problem was that he wasn’t kidding.
“For two years St. Louis has been the best in the league and there’s part of me that wants to measure ourselves against the best,” Martelli said. “And for 40 minutes today, St. Bonaventure was the best, so we’re anxious to do that tomorrow.”
The Hawks can’t play as if they are in the NCAA’s. St. Bonaventure surely won’t. What the Bonnies have shown in the two wins is both physical and mental toughness.
The Bonnies are getting some awfully strong play from Youssou Dnoye, a 7-foot junior. Against La Salle, he had 19 points and nine rebounds. In the quarterfinal win over St. Louis he had 13 points and three rebounds. Entering the tournament, he was averaging 9.9 points and 4.2 rebounds.
So he has really stepped up his game.
The Bonnies will likely try to go down low and attempt to get Kanacevic and Ronald Roberts Jr. in foul trouble.
Then again, the Bonnies will have to stop the outside game of the Hawks.
Langston Galloway was sensational against Dayton, not only hitting the game-winning three-pointer with 19 seconds left, but also by scoring 31 points.
The key for Galloway is starting off well and when he does, the senior is usually in a shooting zone. He is a team player, but in this game, Galloway went out of his way to take over.
“I wanted to help this team as much as possible and knew they would try to stop us in the post because we are balanced,” Galloway said. “I tried to make a statement to start us off and get us going.”
He did it for sure and a repeat will be needed if the Hawks want to reach the championship game and cement that NCAA bid, which looks pretty rock solid at this point.