Things got testy as the clock wound down, but it was the Saint Joseph's Hawks who emerged Sunday as the A-10 Conference champions over the VCU Rams and earned an automatic bid to this year's big dance.
DeAndre Bembry and Isaiah Miles had massive performances for St. Joe's, combining for 56 points on 24-32 shooting in the victory – all without a turnover between the two of them. The Hawks shot 64.8 percent from the field and turned the ball over just seven times over the course of the game, an undeniable championship performance.
Bembry, who finished with 30 points, and Miles, who had 26 and 12 rebounds, kept the pressure up on VCU all game, leading Saint Joseph's to the sensationally efficient 87-74 win with stellar ball protection and control. The Rams made it a close call down the stretch, but the Hawks would not be shot down in this one.
After Phil Martelli's team went up by as much as 21 midway through the second half, VCU mounted a 16-4 run to cut the lead to 74-65 with five minutes to go in the game. The tightest it got was a seven-point game, but Bembry prevented the comeback's completion and took over down the stretch, finishing with 17 second-half points, including eight over those final five minutes.
For VCU, Korey Billbury and JeQuan Lewis combined to lead the way with 19 points apiece.
It started out with VCU up 10-9 before an 11-4 Saint Joseph's run made it 20-13 in the Hawks' favor. It was neck-and-neck between the birds and the horns up until the half, with Miles and St. Joe's holding on to a nine-point advantage at the half, 43-34. Miles had 15 at the half.
The second half began with a 14-7 run by the Hawks, putting Martelli's side up 16 with 14 minutes and a whole lot of basketball left to go. Miles got hot and hiked the lead up to 70-49, a 21-point margin, with 8:45 remaining, and that's when things set in for VCU.
VCU Tries To Ram Its Way Back
The Rams strung together some buckets to cut the lead to 74-65 in a matter of three-and-a-half minutes, later bringing themselves within seven on a Jordan Burgess three-pointer that made it 75-68.
Saint Joseph's recovered and cruised past the Rams down the sloppy stretch that was the game's end, with a 12-6 run to end the game at its 87-74 final. This was without Papa Ndao, was got T'ed up with eight minutes to go and was ejected. Two minutes after Ndao's sending off, there was a double technical incident, and in general, the final 10 or so minutes were filled with bone-splitting aggression and physicality.
The #4 seed Hawks now have nothing to worry about on Selection Sunday with their automatic bid, while the Rams and a whole slew of A-10 teams will hope their performances in conference and regular season play were enough to earn them a spot in this year's big dance.