A-10 Semis: And Then There Were Two
The final scores rarely ever tell the full story. Sure if a team gets blown out by 50 points, you can usually assume that the winning team was that much better.
But when St. Joe’s wins 67-48 over Saint Bonaventure, would you know by just looking at the score that the Bonnies actually led by 9 at one point? That St. Joe’s guard DeAndre Bembry, who scored just 4 points in this game, was actually the difference maker since he took one of Saint Bonaventure’s best players out of the game? Matthew Wright dropped 20 on St. Louis just the day before, but Bembry, just a freshman was able to shut him down to 4.
Just looking at the VCU 19 point victory wouldn’t give you the full picture. VCU needed a bucket just before halftime to take a 33-31 lead. George Washington had a six point lead in the first half when they were eating up the Havoc man-to-man pressure defense VCU runs. Only in the final few minutes did VCU really pull away to give them their 74-55 victory.
That final score wouldn’t tell you that VCU was able to do that without one of their key shooters, Melvin Johnson who left after just 5 minutes of play due to injury. That threw the team completely off their game, especially since, as Coach Shaka Smart reminded in his postgame press conference, Melvin was one the best at scoring against GW’s 1-3-1 defense.
The one thing the final scores do tell however is who is victorious, and since this is a tournament, who advances. Both VCU and St. Joe’s won for the privilege of facing each other in the A-10 championship. It’s a familiar place for Smart’s Rams who were here last year, but a foreign land for Coach Phil Martelli’s Hawks. They haven’t been since 2008.
It’s not the matchup everyone was anticipating either. Many believed VCU would be there, but the Hawks are surprise. It was supposed to be reigning champ St. Louis or UMass after their electric start. Instead both of those team will be watching far away from Brooklyn, waiting to hear their fate for the NCAA Tournament later that evening.
They and rest of the country will be watching to see what style wins – consistency or electricity. St. Joe’s relies heavily on their starters. Against the Bonnies, 8 bench players combined for 18 minutes and that’s only because Martelli pulled his starters with about a minute to go. 3 starters played 39 minutes, the other 2 played 32 and 33. The bench contributed 3 points to the Hawks 67.
VCU, on the other hand, relies on quick shifts of explosiveness to effectively run Smart’s Havoc full-court pressure defense. Their bench added 19 points against GW and two of their bench players spent 16 and 17 minutes out on the floor. Jordan Burgess, a guy who usually plays off the bench, stepped up in Melvin Johnson’s absence to take 32 minutes on the floor.
The Hawks rely primarily on Langston Galloway and Halil Kanacevic for offense. The two combined for 54 of the 67 points. For VCU without Johnson, Graham was the primary beneficiary dropping 22, but Briante Weber, the A-10 defensive player of the year also had 16, while Rob Brandenberg and Mo Alie-Cox added 9 and 8, respectively.
Both teams will be playing for the third day in a row, but that shouldn’t matter according to Martelli, because they’ll be playing for a championship.