Determined second-half run propels Saint Joseph’s past Xavier (VIDEO)

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NEW YORK – Xavier has spent the last half decade ruling over the Atlantic-10. Saint Joseph’s entered the season as the favorite to take the Musketeers spot atop the conference.

Needless to say the 2012-2013 season has not gone as expected for either team, but with a tournament bid hanging in the balance, the two Atlantic-10 staples fought and clawed until the bitter end, with Saint Joseph’s escaping with a 58-57 win on Thursday night in the first round of the Atlantic-10 tournament.

This performance was indicative of the type of season Saint Joseph’s has had. They would take the lead before stalling out. Their talent would get them over the hump, but their lack of a killer instinct restricted them from taking the game over.

For most of the game it seemed like Saint Joseph’s had the better talent but Xavier outplayed them as a team. But following the under-12 timeout in which they trailed 44-36, the Hawks demeanor changed.

Ronald Roberts, who spent much of the first half quiet and reserved, became a force on the low block, grabbing misses and fighting for loose balls. The team fed off of his energy. Head coach Phil Martelli was pleased with the way his team responded. “The players deserve a lot of credit here. They worked their tails off on Tuesday and Wednesday to be ready. They said all the appropriate things to each other during time‑outs in the last segment.”

An eight point deficit turned into a two point deficit, and by the time the under-8 timeout came, the Hawks had regained the lead, 48-44.

“We had a big basket down eight, got Halil on an inside play, and everybody caught their breath. I think Langston hit a three in that little run; because, we’re fragile, we’re very, very fragile.”

Xavier clawed back over the final three minutes of the game, and it appeared as if the Hawks would again wilt under the pressure and bright lights. But the Hawks did what good teams are supposed to do down the stretch of big games. They hit their foul shots.

Langston Galloway hit two free throws with 1.4 seconds remaining and Isaiah Philmore’s buzzer-beating attempt rimmed out at the other end, giving the Hawks a much-needed victory.

St. Joseph’s doesn’t have the resume of an at-large team, but they do have the roster makeup. Desperation can make people do things they wouldn’t normally do, and with a team as talented as they are, desperation might just be the key to the Hawks’ postseason success.

You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.