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March 11, 2016

St. Joe's 86, GW 80: Hawks erase huge halftime deficit, advance to semis

BROOKLYN -- For a team on the bubble, the first half wasn’t the final impression Saint Joseph’s wanted to leave on the tournament committee. Not even close.

In the first 20 minutes of an Atlantic 10 quarterfinal at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, George Washington rang up 49 points and shot 11-16 from three-point range. Even worse, the Colonials ran their offense with ease. So the Hawks came out of the locker room and did something about it, coming back to claim an 86-80 win in the 4/5 game.

St. Joe’s beat GW in Foggy Bottom by 18 points a month ago, and after watching this one, it seems like they just have a better team. They withstood an absolute haymaker by the Colonials in the first half and still managed to find a way to win.

Phil Martelli received contributions from up and down the roster, too. After accepting his Atlantic 10 Player of the Year award before the game, DeAndre’ Bembry went for 21 points. Aaron Brown was in attack mode all night en route to 20 points. James Demery (15 points) came of the bench, supplied great defense, and pulled down eight badly needed boards. Afterwards, Martelli and his players agreed that Demery was the most important Hawk on this day.

What initially got St. Joe’s in trouble was their complete inability to defend the arc in the first half. GW, playing through 6’10” center Kevin Larsen, shot 11-16 from three-point range in the first 20 minutes. Time and again, the Hawks’ defense sagged in to help against Larsen in the post, which resulted in an open three from somewhere on the floor.

Without too much hyperbole, this is an enormous win for St. Joe’s. You have to imagine it wouldn't have been an easy couple of days on Hawk Hill if they dropped this one. Joe Lunardi slotted St. Joe’s as one of the final four byes coming into the day, but the Hawks simply hadn’t looked like a tournament team over the past week. Knocking off a fellow bubble team in the conference tourney was crucial.

Up next for St. Joe's is a semifinal matchup against No. 1 (in the conference, not the country) Dayton Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. In the teams’ only meeting this season, the Hawks got a 79-70 win on Hawk Hill. 

Follow Rich on Twitter: @rich_hofmann