WASHINGTON – This was the gut check, the test to see how much St. Joseph’s wanted to play one more game.
For more than 33 minutes, the Hawks had the lead over 25th-ranked Rhode Island in their Atlantic Ten semifinal game on Saturday.
But, with just over six minutes left in the game, the Rams took their first lead. And with 3½ minutes remaining, Rhode Island was up by seven.
How would St. Joseph’s react? The Hawks had already given a lot. Was there one last reserve tucked deep away that they could tap into and keep their season alive?
St. Joe’s was game, but there just wasn’t enough there. The Rams had five players score in double figures and advanced to the A-10 championship game with a hard-fought 90-87 win at Capital One Arena.
Rhode Island (25-6) will play for its second straight tournament title on Sunday.
“It was a game between two teams that were desperate to win,” Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. “I give a lot of credit to St. Joe’s. Their style was kind of our kryptonite. We had to fight our tails off to win.”
It would have been hard to ask the Hawks to give more than they did. St. Joe’s came out hooping and put Rhode Island in scramble mode. Unlike 10 days ago, however, when the Hawks smashed them by 30, the Rams did not belly up.
The Rams kept battering the Hawks physically. Rhode Island shot only 43.5 percent from the field, but 19 offensive rebounds and 10 forced turnovers gave them 12 more field goal attempts. They also made 14 of 31 (45.2 percent) three-pointers.
“We lacked physicality today, and that’s why the outcome was what it was,” said St. Joe’s Nick Robinson, who had 16 points. “Had we went out and controlled the boards, it wouldn’t have been a problem.”
Senior Shavar Newkirk, who played most of the second half with a sprained big toe, finished his St. Joe’s career with 18 points, eight rebounds and six assists.
James Demery (14), Pierfrancesco Oliva (13), Anthony Longpre’ (13) and Taylor Funk (11) also scored in double figures.
The Hawks (16-16) finish their season with a .500 record, which is some feat considering they were 9-14 in the first week of February.
“It shocked me, to be honest,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said of the way his team played over the last 30 days. “I’ve said it all year. I’ve said it to them. I’ll say it again. It was not a real mature, manly group. It took a long time, but they started competing.
“There’s going to be a point in time when I’m daydreaming this summer, and I’ll say, ‘You know what, that’s pretty good that it took 90 to beat us.’
“We’re walking out of here having shot 56 percent [32 of 57] against that defense. It hurts because we’re collecting out uniforms, but we’re not walking out of here as chumps. We can walk out like champs.”