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Atlantic 10 Tournament: Saint Joseph’s Wins Championship With 87-74 Win Over VCU Behind 30 From DeAndre Bembry

The final of the Atlantic 10 Tournament featured two of the best teams in the conference. On one side you have VCU, who were making their fourth consecutive appearance in the A-10 final, only the 3rd team in conference history to accomplish that feat. You also have the first year of head coach Will Wade at the helm of the Rams and a team who wants to prove that they can be successful without former coach Shaka Smart who is now with Texas. On the other side you have A-10 stalwart Saint Joseph’s with longtime coach Phil Martelli who wanted to reassert their dominance to a conference they have dominated in the past.

On Sunday St. Joseph’s reaffirmed their dominance in the Atlantic 10 after defeating VCU 87-74 for the Atlantic 10 championship. This was the Hawks’ second A-10 Tournament crown in three years as they won the conference’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

It was tale of two extremely different teams in the first few minutes as VCU was forced by Saint Joseph’s to take almost exclusively all outside shots as the Rams started 2-of-8 from three point land and 5-of-17 from the field overall. Saint Joseph’s on the other hand were able to get easy points inside as the scored 16 of their first 20 points in the paint. That led to a high shooting percentage and an early 20-13 lead.

The lack of inside presence hampered VCU’s ability to run their up-tempo attack and forced them to go into half-court sets. This was done early on against UMass on Friday as they forced the Rams to slow down and Saint Joseph’s took that same approach in the first half. While the Rams were struggling, the Hawks were flying as DeAndre Bembry made up for his poor semifinal game Saturday afternoon to score 13 points as the St. Joseph’s led 43-34 at the half.

“They’re a really good jump shooting team. They take a lot of long twos a lot of mid-range jumpers, and they’ve been shooting them well all year,” said VCU head coach Will Wade. “I didn’t think they’d shoot 65 percent, but they’re a good shooting. We didn’t exactly put up a lot of resistance or contest a lot of those in the first half which was problematic and hurt us.”

Saint Joseph’s started on a tear scoring ten points to stretch their lead out to 53-38 at the 16:45 of the second half. While VCU attempted to push the tempo after Saint Joseph’s lead increased, they were still forced into taking jump shot after jump shot and they continued to struggle shooting from the outside. That led to easy baskets in transition for the Hawks as they continued to take the Rams out of their comfort zone throughout the half and the game.

At the 8:32 mark of the second half, Papa Ndao was ejected from the game after pushing a VCU player after Ndao committed a foul. VCU made three of the four technical free throws and two more free throws to cut the Saint Joseph’s lead to 70-54. The game continued to get chippy as both VCU and Saint Joseph were charged offsetting technical fouls at the 6:30 mark of the second half. All of this while the Rams started to creep back into the game as proceeded to go on a 19-5 run after the ejection to cut the Hawk lead to nine with under four minutes remaining.

“What Papa Ndao did was embarrassing. I’ve never ever had that happen and I am infuriated with that,” said Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli after the game. “That’s not how we represent ourselves.”

Despite the run, whenever the Rams got close Saint Joseph’s were able to answer back and they leaned on their Player of the Year in the Atlantic 10 to do it. A day after Martelli said that he needed to play better in the final, Bembry answered his coach’s call and led the Hawks with 30 points and many big shots down the stretch to give St. Joseph’s the win and their fourth A-10 Tournament crown in school history.

“I told them in August they were the best team in the Atlantic 10, as a team. Now, whether or not that was going to transfer to basketball, I didn’t know,” said Martelli. “I just think that it’s– to have played probably your best game of the year on this stage, this late March, a great tribute to them, to their willingness to be coached, and the way that they’ve been coached by the assistants.”

Isaiah Miles was named the Atlantic 10 Tournament Most Outstanding Player as he finished the tournament with 26 point, 10 rebound effort in the title clinching game. The conference also announced it All-Championship team for the tournament.

Isaiah Miles (Saint Joseph’s)
DeAndre Bembry (Saint Joseph’s)
Aaron Brown (Saint Joseph’s)
Korey Billbury (VCU)
Dysahwn Pierre (Dayton)

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Kahlil Thomas

Kahlil is the College Sports Editor for as well as a columnist, hosting the Bump 'N Run column once per week. He also co-hosts a weekly basketball podcast, The Box Out, every Thursday evening with fellow writer Jason Cordner.
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