There was never any doubt.
Once Saint Joseph’s eliminated Virginia Commonwealth 65-61 in the championship game of the Atlantic 10 tournament yesterday at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, this much was known: the Hawks were going dancing.
Heading into the conference tournament, it was a whole different scenario. Nothing was certain. Nothing was guaranteed.
St. Joe’s was 21-9 and had suffered consecutive losses to George Washington and city rival La Salle.
But the Hawks went back to work and proceeded to knock off Dayton, St. Bonaventure and VCU on their way to the program’s second conference tournament title under coach Phil Martelli. The last one came in 1997.
St. Joe’s received a No. 10 seed in the East Region and it will meet No. 7 Connecticut (26-8) in Buffalo, N.Y. on Thursday.
A fascinating subplot has a potential Holy War rematch against Villanova with a win over the Huskies. The No. 2 Wildcats (28-4) will play No. 15 Milwaukee (21-13).
For now, it’s all about celebrating the moment.
The Hawks haven’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2008 and this is just their second berth since the 2004 team went 27-0 in the regular season and advanced to the Elite Eight before falling to Oklahoma State.
St. Joe’s senior Halil Kanacevic was named the Most Valuable Player of the Atlantic 10 tournament after breaking a record with 43 rebounds in its three games.
“It’s truly an honor to come in here and win these three games,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli told reporters after the tournament victory. “I couldn’t be happier for, not just the seniors, but this whole group. They have been an easy group to work with and I’m delighted that we’ll have another chance to work and play again.”
Senior sharpshooting guard Langston Galloway led the Hawks with 19 points. For the first time in his St. Joe’s career, he’ll have a chance to compete in the NCAAs.
“We’re ready to go,” Galloway told reporters. “We don’t care who we have to play. We’re going to prepare for them for either Thursday or Friday, let the ball tip up and let’s go.”
Momentum can be altered in a nanosecond. Just look at how the regular season ended and how the Hawks thrived in the conference tournament.
They’re hoping to continue that momentum in frigid Buffalo. As far as the Hawks are concerned, this will be the best road trip of the season.
And they’re hoping to make another run in the Big Dance.