Halil Kanacevic

Atlantic 10 Tournament: Saint Joseph’s goes from bubble to champion with win over VCU

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It’s been quite the turn of events the past three days for Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks sat on the bubble as they made their way to Brooklyn. For the third time in three days St. Joe’s prevailed, winning the Atlantic 10 Tournament championship with a 65-61 win over No. 23 VCU.

St. Joe’s (24-9, 11-5 A10) is rolling into the NCAA tournament with some serious momentum, made more notable since earlier in March the Hawks had dropped back-to-back games to George Washington and La Salle. Phil Martelli’s team entered the afternoon as a projected 10-seed in Dave Ommen’s latest edition of Bracketology. The Hawks will likely slide up with a win over a ranked opponent and becoming the A10 champs.

The Hawks have been tested this week in Brooklyn. Dayton, another bubble team, could have ended St. Joe’s run on Friday, but Langston Galloway, who scored  20 of his 31 points in the first half, saved his biggest three points for last, lifting St. Joe’s to a 70-67 quarterfinal win. The next night it was Halil Kanacevic turn to carry the Hawks.

He dropped 26 points and grabbed 17 rebounds in a semifinal win over St. Bonaventure, the eight-seed which knocked off top-ranked Saint Louis the previous afternoon. The only way the Bonnies would earn an NCAA bid is if they ran the table inside the Barclays Center.

No question St. Joe’s will be a tough out in next week’s tournament with its ability to get production out of Galloway on the perimeter and Kanacevic in the paint.

VCU, on the other hand, has lost for the first time in seven games. The Rams were without their top outside shooter Melvin Johnson. Without him, they missed 10 of their first 11 3-point attempts, ending the day 5-of-26 from behind the arc.

Both these teams are projected to be two of six bids for the Atlantic 10 Conference.

Hagan Arena will be rocking for St. Joseph’s vs. Villanova

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When St. Joseph’s and Villanova — two of the five schools making up Philadelphia’s “Big Five” — meet on the hardwood, the game is always a ‘can’t miss’ and atmosphere unparalleled.

When the game is played at St. Joseph’s Hagan Arena, there may not be another gym in the country that provides the home team with as big of an advantage, and visiting team fits.

Hagan Arena, which opened in 2009, seats only 4,200 people, but you can bet there will be more people than that figure present for tomorrow’s tilt between the Hawks and Wildcats as the game promises to be standing room only. It’s a hot ticket, and plenty of fans will be turned away as a result.

“I think getting tickets for this game is harder than getting tickets for the Super Bowl,” St. Joe’s senior forward Halil Kanacevic told Dave Zeitlin of CSNPilly.com. “I’ve literally got people calling me every day. I can’t help them out. I wish I could. I can’t even get some of my family members tickets.”

When the home team, St. Joe’s traditionally played games against Villanova at The Palestra, but beginning in 2011 played the game at Hagan Arena; the Hawks cruised to an easy 74-58.

The Hawks will look to take advantage of the home-court advantage that Hagan presents tomorrow against Villanova, who is one of the season’s early surprises with wins over Kansas and Iowa at the Battle 4 Atlantis tournament.

Kanacevic remarked about the crowd in 2011, and what he expects Saturday’s game to bring: “It was a top-five crazy atmosphere I’ve played in. It was crazy. They said it was 4,200 people but it was definitely more than 4,200…[F]actor in they’re a ranked team coming into our gym. And then you factor in that it’s Villanova. So I don’t think you really need to say much about it.”

Villanova head coach Jay Wright is well aware of the problems Hagan presents to opposing teams. “Playing in there is wild,” Wright said. “There aren’t many places like that left anymore where they’re right on top of you and right behind the bench.”

St. Joe’s forward Halil Kanacevic gives crowd middle finger, misses key free throws in loss to Villanova

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St. Joe’s forward Halil Kanacevic experienced both ends of the emotional spectrum Tuesday night in his team’s 65-61 loss to Villanova.

With the game tied at 47 with just under 10 minutes to go, the junior hit a three-pointer to give the Hawks a 50-47 lead. While jogging back down the floor on defense, as recounted by The700Level.com, Kanacevic flashed the middle finger to the Villanova faithful in attendance.

The Associated Press has a picture of the act floating on the wire, along with a censored version at CSNPhilly.com.

But things got worse for Kanacevic.

With under a minute remaining, he missed two free throws with his team up, 61-60. Villanova’s James Bell came back down the floor and hit a three-pointer that would put the Wildcats ahead.

Then, with 3.5 seconds remaining and his team down, 63-61, Kanacevic was tabbed with inbounding duties. In an attempt to avoid a five-second violation, he threw the ball off the leg of Villanova’s Maurice Sutton, but the ball bounced back and hit him before going out of bounds, causing a turnover.

The call was later disputed, but stood, giving Villanova a chance to seal the game, and they did.

“I did not [Kanacevic’s hand gesture] ‘cause there was a timeout called and I saw people coming off the court. I didn’t see it,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said after the game, as reported by CSN Philly’s Matt Haughton.

“One of the things that we will mention to them is that on the road you play to silence. That’s all you want. It certainly wasn’t a raucous atmosphere up until that point, but I’ll look at it and see,” he continued. “I don’t think it made us play faster or out of character. We just made some out-of-character plays and plays that were home runs instead of singles.”

After the game, Kanacevic deleted his Twitter account.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_