NEW YORK (AP) — Halil Kanacevic had 26 points, 17 rebounds, four assists, two steals — and some speeches in the huddle.
The versatile forward from nearby Staten Island led Saint Joseph’s to its first Atlantic 10 tournament final since 2008 with a 67-48 win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday.
The fourth-seeded Hawks trailed by nine points early, but Kanacevic kept assuring his teammates during timeouts that everything would be OK.
“I didn’t have to say it,” coach Phil Martelli said. “He said it to them. ... They all listen to him.”
The senior was certainly right. Saint Joseph’s (23-9) pulled away early in the second half as the Bonnies went more than 8½ minutes without a field goal.
Ninth-seeded St. Bonaventure (18-15) stunned No. 18 Saint Louis in the quarterfinals, but a day after several huge shots fell through, the Bonnies couldn’t find the bottom of the net.
Kanacevic shot just 3 of 12 in Friday’s victory over fellow bubble team Dayton but still pulled down 12 rebounds. In the semifinals, he was 8 of 12 from the field and punctuated the win with a dunk with less than four minutes left that put Saint Joseph’s up 61-42.
He wasn’t impressed by his points total and only slightly more excited by his rebounds.
“Scoring — don’t really care about it,” Kanacevic said.
The Hawks no longer have anything to worry about Sunday, when the NCAA tournament field is announced a few hours after they face No. 23 VCU at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center.
This one was tied 29-29 at halftime, but from some combination of the fatigue of three games in three days and an unfriendly rim, the Bonnies repeatedly saw good looks bounce around and off as Saint Joseph’s slowly stretched its lead.
“Baskets we usually make were rolling off the rim,” said leading scorer Matthew Wright, who was held to six points. “It was just frustrating physically and mentally.”
And the Bonnies had no answer for the 6-foot-8, 255-pound Kanacevic, who helped get 7-foot Youssou Ndoye into foul trouble early and often.
“He affects the game both on the offensive and defensive ends,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said.
The Bonnies shot just 4 of 24 (17 percent) in the second half, scoring a season-low 19 points. The Hawks made them work for everything on both ends of the floor, well aware of St. Bonaventure’s tired legs.
“We just wore them down,” Martelli said.
Charlon Kloof was the only St. Bonaventure player in double digits with 10 points. Wright, who hit five 3-pointers to score 22 points Friday, missed his first seven shots in the semis with the taller DeAndre Bembry draped all over him.
Wright said the Hawks had St. Bonaventure scouted so well that whenever the Bonnies called out a set play for the guard, Bembry would immediately let his teammates know what was coming.
On offense, Martelli said, Bembry looked like a freshman he is with 1-of-7 shooting and five turnovers.
“At the defensive end, he was a 10-year veteran,” the coach said.
Senior Langston Galloway, who scored 31 points Friday for the Hawks, finished with 18 after a slow start.
For all of Saint Joseph’s success in 19 seasons under Martelli, the Hawks have won just one A-10 tournament title, way back in 1997.
He told his players after the win: “Tomorrow we’re coming here for rings and nets.”
“Since we’ve been here, we’ve never been this close,” said forward Ronald Roberts, the third of Saint Joseph’s senior starters. “We’ve got to seize the moment tomorrow.”