CINCINNATI (AP) -- Coach Karl Hobbs got right to the point in his
pregame pep talk.
The only charter member of the Atlantic 10 that hadn't won its
tournament was getting another chance, one that George Washington
couldn't afford to waste by getting nervous or rattled.
"I just told our team, 'Hey, it's our time,' " Hobbs said.
After 29 years as an also-ran, the Colonials finally got to wear
the nets around their necks. T.J. Thompson led a late 12-point run,
and George Washington got its elusive title with a 76-67 victory
Saturday over Saint Joseph's.
The Colonials (22-7) lost title games in 1991 and 1998, going a
long time between chances to shed their distinction. They became an
afterthought during two losing seasons in 2001-03, before
rebounding with an NIT berth last year and, now, their first NCAA
appearance in six years.
"I'm still amazed," said Thompson, sitting with the net slung
around his neck and the game ball cradled in his lap. "In my first
two years here, we were at the bottom of the league, in last place.
Last year we took a step forward in the NIT. But nothing compares
with the feeling when you win the A10."
Another solid game by Pat Carroll wasn't nearly enough for Saint
Joseph's (19-11), which had the tournament's top seed. Carroll had
25 points, but the Hawks went only 9-of-27 from behind the 3-point
arc and faded down the stretch.
"They have tremendous quickness, a lot of balance," coach Phil
Martelli said. "And I think their balance did us in with 8 minutes
left. Our defense let down and with their quickness, they were able
to exploit it."
Carroll's 3-pointer gave Saint Joseph's its final lead, 49-46,
with 6:52 to go. Thompson's 3 and his driving layup started the
decisive run -- he had eight of the 12 points. Omar Williams led
George Washington with 20 points, and Thompson finished with 15.
Both teams sensed they had to win to make the NCAA Tournament.
George Washington was the only Atlantic 10 team to win 20 games,
and none of the league's teams has persuasive RPI numbers.
"We knew that if we lost, it would be highly unlikely that we'd
get an at-large bid," Colonials center Pops Mensah-Bonsu said.
Saint Joseph's regrouped after making the NCAA's final eight
last year behind Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, who went to the
NBA. The Hawks got off to a 3-6 start before jelling around
Carroll, the conference's co-Player of the Year.
"We ended up 16-5 in our last 21 games," Carroll said. "That
speaks a lot to the coaching staff getting players to believe we
were a good team when we started 3-6. The coaches turned our
attitude and we started believing in ourselves."
George Washington's main job was to contain the left-handed
shooter, who had 21 points when the Hawks beat the Colonials 71-56
only 11 days earlier. Carroll had a career-high 30 in a semifinal
win over Xavier on Friday night.
Carl Elliott and J.R. Pinnock took turns chasing Carroll around
the court, arms extended to deny any pass. The strategy worked
initially: Carroll missed his first three shots -- Pinnock swatted
away a driving layup attempt -- and had only five points in the
Carroll wasn't the only Hawk having a hard time. Saint Joseph's
missed its first nine shots and 18 of its first 22 against frenetic
man-to-man coverage. The Hawks had more turnovers (8) than field
goals (7) in the first half.
Saint Joseph's stayed in the game with good defense of its own.
The conference's top defensive team -- opponents average 59 points --
prevented the Colonials from getting into the fast pace they
Chet Stachitas, who was 0-for-7 in the first half, made the
Hawks' first three baskets after the break, giving Saint Joseph's
its first lead at 26-25. Stachitas made his first five shots in the
second half, getting openings because George Washington was so
focused on Carroll.
Carroll, the most accurate 3-point shooter in school history,
then found his touch. He hit consecutive 3s -- one from the right
corner, one from the left -- and made all three free throws after he
was knocked to the floor while attempting another. His personal
nine-point run put the Hawks up 42-35.
Thompson, who set George Washington's career 3-point mark the
previous night, then hit a 3 that blunted the Hawks' charge. Two
minutes later, he started the run that brought the win.