(Papa Ndao of St. Joseph’s – Mike Lawrence – Sportsday Wire)
The St. Joseph’s Hawks dominated the Dayton Flyers in the Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinals, holding on for an 82-79 win on Saturday afternoon.
St. Joe’s won this tournament in 2014, and they will be looking to take their second A10 championship in three years on Sunday afternoon against VCU or Davidson.
The first half was a very even affair, with St. Joe’s holding a 37-30 lead at halftime.
St. Joe’s opened up a 12-point lead, 50-38, on an Aaron Brown jumper five minutes into the second half. Dayton responded, and cut it to three, 55-52 on a jumper by Kyle Davis with 8:39 left.
Papa Ndao responded with 11 straight points, three consecutive three-pointers and a layup, to give St. Joe’s a 66-57 lead.
St. Joe’s dominated the rest of the way, maintaining an 8-point edge, and put it away when Brown hit a couple of free throws with 1:15 left to make it 76-64.
Dayton Head Coach Archie Miller then played the foul game in what turned into a very long final minute and that made the final score just three points, 82-79, not indicative of the nature of this game.
St. Joe’s was led by Isaiah Miles, who had 26 points on 7-15 from the field, with nine rebounds. Aaron Brown had 16 points on 4-6 from the field, 2-4 on threes, two rebounds and two assists. Papa Ndao finished with 14 points, three rebounds, and an assist.
For Dayton, Dyshawn Pierre had 22 points on 8-15 from the field (2-5 threes), five rebounds, and an assist. Scoochie Smith had 14 points, 11 assists, and four rebounds. Kendall Pollard had 11 points and five rebounds.
St. Joe’s Head Coach Phil Martelli said, “My assistant here just told me walking over, he said, you know, we didn’t play that great, but we wanted to go to the championship. He’s wise beyond his years.
“Pop (Ndao) was big, and he cares a great deal. You could feel him over this last stretch of time. He is a senior in a lot of ways. He’s a senior on this team. As the senior elder statesman, I could feel it, the sands of time going through the hourglass with him, and delighted for his performance. I thought we did a very reasonable job defensively, and a really unusually poor job with the ball. We’ll have to be better with the ball tomorrow, and that’s the beauty with this team, in that tomorrow we have a chance to play better, and we will need to play better tomorrow.
“But for Pop and Isaiah (Miles) and DeAndre’ (Bembry) to have a chance to win a second Atlantic 10 championship is really special, but we have work to do tonight,” said Martelli.
Martelli said the other day that Papa Ndao was the most serious guy on the team, and he said of thinking that this is a smile-worthy performance from him, “Nope, you won’t get a smile from Pop. He’s got stuff going on in his head that really I’m not intellectually able to grasp. But he knows. He knows that I know, and that’s all I think that he really needs.”
Ndao said of being a senior and being in this moment, what it means to him to have such a big performance in one of your last games, “It’s kind of special, but in a way it’s just another day. I feel like until we win a championship, I feel like every game is just a game, just to get there. It’s just a push to get what we want basically. We just want to — just got to keep that going, I guess.”
Bembry said of what happens without Ndao scoring 11 straight in the second half, “We’ll have to look for somebody else to make a big shot. Every shot that he took today was a big shot. It was right after Dayton hit a three or Dayton got a steal or something like that, and that’s just the confidence we have in him and that’s the confidence he has in himself. I’m just happy for Pop. We know that he has that in him, and like I said, he hit shot after shot for us tonight.”
Martelli said of what this means to his team to get to the A10 Final, “Well, it’s just — here’s what matters: These guys are playing and creating memories. They’re going to create a memory when they go back to the hotel because they’re going to eat dinner and then they’re going to the 9/11 memorial. I went over there this morning at 8:00. This is about more than basketball. It’s more than books. It’s about life experiences. So these guys have a life experience. The crowd has been great. The St. Joe’s support has been tremendous. Just that small thing, Papa Ndao sitting in front of all of you, that hasn’t happened before in his career.
“I’m delighted for the players. I’m a little bit miffed because we didn’t finish. Yesterday we finished. Today we kind of like skipped along to the finish line. We’re going to have to be tougher tomorrow.”