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March 12, 2016

Saint Joseph’s 82, Dayton 79: Hawks back in A-10 championship

BROOKLYN -- For the second time in three years, the Saint Joseph’s Hawks will play in the Atlantic 10 championship game on Sunday in Brooklyn. And if there was any doubt about whether Phil Martelli’s team will be dancing next weekend, it has been removed.

In Saturday’s first semifinal at Barclays Center, No. 4 St. Joe’s completed the season sweep of No. 1 Dayton by defeating the Flyers, 82-79.

The Hawks advanced primarily on the back of senior forward Isaiah Miles, the conference’s most improved player. After an off day against George Washington in the quarterfinals, “Zeke” went for 26 points (7-15 FG) and 9 rebounds. Time and again, the Hawks were able to spring their stretch forward open for jumpers and Miles delivered.

Miles’ hot shooting helped make up for a subpar performance from the Hawks’ other star, DeAndre’ Bembry. The Atlantic 10 player of the year was defended well by Dayton’s Charles Cooke. Bembry finished with 9 points on 3-12 shooting.

The day’s most surprising performance came from backup wing Papa Ndao. Given the open three-pointer by the Dayton defense the entire game, Ndao started out 0-4 from deep. He kept shooting, though, and it paid off. In the second half, Ndao (14 points, 5-13 FG) made some crucial shots to stop Dayton runs.  Coming into the game, his season average was only five points per game.

St. Joe’s will play the winner of No. 2 VCU and No. 6 Davidson on Sunday at 12:30 p.m. The Hawks will have their work cut out, as they went a combined 0-2 against those two teams in the regular season.

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann