March 1, 2005
By JOSEPH WHITE
AP Sports Writer
WASHINGTON - Even though he didn't play because of a broken arm, John Bryant was credited for leading Saint Joseph's to its latest victory.
On the bench in a blue long-sleeved shirt instead of a uniform, Bryant supplied the inspiration as the Hawks beat George Washington 71-56 Tuesday night to win Atlantic 10 title outright.
With their fifth straight A-10 East Division regular season crown, the Hawks become the second team in conference history to win five consecutive titles. Massachusetts accomplished it from 1991 to 1996. SJU will also be the tournament's top overall seed for the second year in a row.
The Hawks, still coming to terms with the loss of their senior co-captain, were upset by Rhode Island on Saturday in their first game after Bryant was injured in the win over Temple on Feb. 22.
On Tuesday, the Hawks rallied around their sidelined leader.
"John Bryant brings so much emotion to our team," said Pat Carroll, who scored 21 points and was 5-of-8 from 3-point range. "That's one thing you can't turn on and off. You have to have that type of personality. John Bryant brings that no matter whether he is on the floor or not. The way we can reward John Bryant is by playing good basketball."
Saint Joseph's (16-10, 13-2) has recovered from a 3-6 start to become the No. 1 seed for the A-10 Tournament, which starts March 9 in Cincinnati. Asked to give a reason for the turnaround, coach Phil Martelli cited Bryant, who accepted a demotion from starter to sixth man in January without complaint.
"Rather than pout, he added a little laughter to our practices," Martelli said. "There was some smiling going on. Up until then, everything was tense. The coaches were tense. The players were tense, and John kind of lightened the attitude, and therefore we've gotten better."
Bryant continues to run stretching drills at practice and pregame warmups, even with his broken arm. Tuesday's game was also a homecoming for Bryant, who is from nearby Woodbridge, Va. There's a chance he could play again if Saint Joseph's makes the NCAA Tournament and advances past the final 16, so that provides further motivation.
"It is in the back of my mind where I want to keep on playing as much as possible, especially to get John Bryant in uniform again," Carroll said. "That would be one of the sweetest things to me."
Saint Joseph's, which leads the A-10 in scoring defense with a stingy 59.3 points per game, held the up-tempo Colonials well below their scoring average of 78.5 points per game.
J.R. Pinnock scored 16 points for George Washington (18-7, 10-5), which suffered a setback in its bid for the school's first NCAA Tournament berth since 1999. The Smith Center was loud and stuffed to capacity on Senior Night.
The Hawks played an inspired opening 10 minutes, making nine of their first 12 shots and taking a 25-11 lead on the strength of 3-point shooting by Carroll and Dwayne Lee. The Hawks led 33-26 at halftime, and held off the Colonials every time George Washington threatened to make a charge in a fast-paced second half.