WASHINGTON, D.C. – Six Hawks scored in double-figures, but 25th-ranked and top-seeded Rhode Island moved on to the Atlantic 10 Championship game with a 90-87 victory over Saint Joseph's in the semfinals of the Atlantic 10 Men's Basketball Championship at Capital One Arena.
Shavar Newkirk led the Hawks with 18 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and two steals. Nick Robinson added 16 points while James Demery scored 14, Anthony Longpré notched a career-high 13, Pierfrancesco Oliva added 13 of his own, and Taylor Funk scored 11 points.
The loss snaps a season-long four-game winning streak for the Hawks, who won seven of their last nine games to earn the fourth seed in the tournament. The Hawks finish the year at 16-16.
The Hawks led for 33 minutes in the fast-paced game with Rhode Island taking its first lead, 72-71, on a layup from Fatts Russell at 6:46, capping a 13-5 Ram run. SJU would tie it one more time on a layup by Newkirk, 73-73, but URI went on a 9-2 run, with back-to-back threes by Russell and Jared Terrell to take an 82-75 lead at 3:37. Jeff Dowtin appeared to put the game away with a three at :19 but Oliva answered with one at :10 to pull SJU within 87-84. Russell hit a pair of free throws and Terrell had one to give URI a 90-87 lead with :02 remaining, and the Hawks couldn't get off the final shot.
Saint Joseph's played the final two minutes without Newkirk, as he had injured his big toe earlier in the second half.
SJU held its biggest lead of the game, 51-40, on a layup by Newkirk, and maintained a double-figure lead, 55-45, until the Rams scored six straight to cut it to 55-51 with 14:31 to play.
"We didn't get exactly what we deserved. That was a championship effort. Six guys in double figures, ten turnovers -- really, nine, nine turnovers. But it was the offensive rebounds. Great credit to Rhode Island. Maximum effort. Fabulous fan support, which is great for the league, and a game that I think was worthy to be seen by the whole country," said head coach Phil Martelli.
It was a fast-paced first few minutes, as SJU led from the start as Funk and Longpre' scored five apiece to put SJU up 12-10. Leading 16-15, SJU went on a 7-0 run with five points from Oliva to take a 23-15 lead at 11:34. The Hawks took their biggest lead of the half, 26-17, on a Longpre’ three at 11:03. Rhode Island pulled within 28-26 using a 5-0 run but the Hawks scored five straight to go up 33-26 as Longpre' hit his third three-pointer in as many attempts.
"I still thought it (the point total needed) would be high 70s, because I thought both teams would bring it down in the second half. But I give the crowd on both sides a lot of credit. They gave energy to kids who were playing their second day in a row, and you know, at some point you look up and say -- you know, there's going to be a point in time -- I'll be honest with you. There's going to be a point in time when I'm daydreaming this summer and I'll say, you know what, that's pretty good. It took 90 to beat us. Anything short of 90, we would have won that game," said Martelli. "We're walking out of here having shot 56 percent against that defense. It hurts. It hurts because we're collecting our uniforms, but we're not walking out of here chumps. We can walk out as champs."
Saint Joseph's led 47-40 at halftime, as it shot over 50 percent from both the field and three-point range. The Hawks finished the game hitting 56.1 percent from the field, while making 9-of-18 three-pointers. SJU had 10 turnovers while URI committed only five.