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Saint Joseph's outlasts VCU in fast-paced Atlantic 10 final

The Saint Joseph's Hawks celebrate after defeating the

The Saint Joseph's Hawks celebrate after defeating the Virginia Commonwealth Rams after the championship game of the 2014 Atlantic 10 men's basketball tournament at Barclays Center on March 16, 2014. Credit: Getty Images / Mike Lawrie

OK, everyone can breathe now. The way Saint Joseph's and Virginia Commonwealth played the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship final, with Saint Joseph's eventually prevailing, was like trying to read a sentence without punctuation as Saint Joseph's embraced the daunted VCU brand of havoc basketball: Never pausing careening to the net like demolition derby drivers and never tapping on the brakes defensively.

Exhale. Saint Joseph's, pulling itself back from the brink in the final minutes, won, 65-61.

For more than two hours, the two teams chased each other around Barclays Center, with neither able to get away from the other while a VCU-dominated crowd howled relentlessly.

Then, with 2:27 to play and the score tied at 54, Saint Joseph's guard Langston Galloway dropped a three-point hammer on VCU. A minute later, after VCU's Briante Weber missed a three-pointer, Saint Joseph's Deandre' Bembry fired a perfect 20-foot pass that Ronald Roberts converted into a dagger dunk.

For anyone who likes warp-speed action and rugged defense (and isn't as concerned about pretty shooting), Brooklyn was the place to be. VCU coach Shaka Smart's hounding full-court press was only diminished, he said, because "we pressed every time we scored, but the problem was that we only scored 24 points" in the first half while shooting only 33 percent.

VCU recovered to take a brief six-point lead midway through the second half, but Saint Joseph's continued to forcefully contest shots and committed only 12 turnovers against VCU's trapping pressure.

"It was a fierce competition that neither team gave an inch," said Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli, who had planned -- with each team playing a third game in three days -- to afford his starters occasional rest.

That plan was ditched "because these guys wanted to win a championship," Martelli said. So Galloway and senior Halil Kanacevic played all 40 minutes, Bembry 38 and Roberts 37.

"You don't think about your legs," Kanacevic said. "You just think about the game; it's a championship game. We'd play another 40 right now to feel this way."

Smart, accustomed to his team wearing down opponents, praised Saint Joseph's persistence. "They played hard," he said, "with good physicality around the basket. They played through fatigue. They handled fatigue. We didn't play as well as we wanted to, but Saint Joseph's had a lot to do with that."

Galloway finished with 19 points, shooting 5-for-11 (including 5-for-8 on three-pointers). Roberts added 15 points and 11 rebounds. Bembry scored 13 and contributed eight assists.

The 6-8 Kanacevic, whose ballhandling skills add to his impact, had 14 rebounds, 11 points, four assists and two blocks and altered several VCU shots.

For VCU -- playing without scoring threat Melvin Johnson, who injured his left knee in Saturday's semifinals -- Rob Brandenberg scored 18 and Treveon Graham had 15.

"We played and beat a wounded team," Martelli said. "But it's truly an honor to win this."

And now Saint Joseph's and VCU, which both received NCAA bids, take a breath and move on.

New York Sports