Musketeers earn first Atlantic 10 tourney title in six years

CINCINNATI -- The Atlantic 10's best player off the bench grew into a starring role at tournament time.

Joei Clyburn had 19 points and 13 rebounds Monday, helping Xavier pull away to a 65-59 victory over Saint Joseph's for the Atlantic 10 tournament championship.

With their top reserve leading the way, the Musketeers (26-7) won their 10th straight game and locked up an NCAA Tournament berth. Xavier went 10-of-12 on free throws in the final 65 seconds, and Clyburn -- voted the conference's top player off the bench -- blocked a 3-point shot on a pivotal play.

"She won two games in the last two days," coach Kevin McGuff said.

Clyburn was Xavier's leading scorer and had the winning free throw in the final seconds of a semifinal victory over defending champion Temple. The fifth-seeded Hawks (19-13) couldn't stop her, either.

Saint Joseph's pulled off the biggest upset of the tournament, beating then-No. 8 George Washington in the semifinals. The Hawks wiped out a 10-point deficit to tie it Monday night, before Clyburn and the Musketeers dug in on defense.

"I felt we let up a little bit," Clyburn said. "When they tied it, we got the thought in our minds that we can't lose this game. We stretched it out at the end."

The third-seeded Musketeers hadn't won the tournament since their back-to-back titles in 2000 -- over Saint Joseph's -- and 2001.

Xavier's Amber Harris, the A10 freshman of the year, overcame a slow start and finished with 15 points. Brittany Ford scored 20 points for Saint Joseph's, which came up a minute short in its bid to win four games in four days.

"Four is tough," coach Cindy Griffin said. "It's doable. It was right there."

Xavier won it by driving to the basket, forcing fouls and making the free throws. Saint Joseph's was 6-of-7 from the line, while the Musketeers went 22-of-29.

"They play to their strengths," Griffin said. "They play a lot of 1-on-1. Look at the free throws. We got seven and the got 29, and that's basically because they're penetrating all the time."

For the second season in a row, the two schools played for an Atlantic 10 tournament title in Cincinnati.

Last year, the Xavier men won four games in four days at a downtown arena for the A10 championship, drawing energy off its home-crowd advantage to beat the Hawks in the final game.

The women's tournament was played on the Musketeers' on-campus court, providing even more of an advantage. They needed it -- their first two wins in the tournament came by one point apiece.

Neither team looked at home in the first half. Xavier led 23-21 at halftime despite shooting 36 percent and piling up 12 turnovers. The Musketeers got more open shots, but repeatedly missed layups and easy putbacks.

Saint Joseph's guard Ayahna Cornish led the Hawks to the title game, averaging 16 points in the tournament. The slashing senior couldn't find any openings, and went 1-of-12 from the field with four points.

Harris, a 6-foot-5 forward who set a school record for blocks, also had a tough time getting shots to fall at the outset. She missed eight of her first nine, and repeatedly pumped her fist in frustration after a layup attempt rolled off the rim late in the first half.

With the game bogged down in mistakes, fans -- including the A10 regular season-champion Xavier men's team -- did the wave early in the second half.

Xavier finally got into a flow during a 12-2 run that pushed the lead to 35-25, the biggest of the game. Saint Joseph's slowly trimmed it, and Jenna Loschiavo's 3-pointer got it down to 45-43 with 6:47 to play. The lead fluctuated between two and six points until Ford had a putback and Whitney Ffrench made a driving layup that tied it at 55 with 1:31 remaining.

"We kept telling ourselves that we can do it," Cornish said. "We just missed some shots that we made yesterday and the day before, and they made their free throws."

After pulling even, Cornish missed a close-range jumper, Ford had a turnover and Clyburn blocked Oyler's 3-point attempt, forcing Saint Joseph's to foul.