CINCINNATI – A new Atlantic Ten Conference championship banner will not be hung from the rafters of the Liacouras Center next fall.
The second-seeded Owls’ hopes of winning their fourth consecutive A-10 championship died as senior Kamesha Hairston’s last-second jump shot bounced off the rim. Xavier immediately began to celebrate their 54-53 win over Temple in the A-10 semifinals Sunday at the Cintas Center.
The loss snaps the Owls’ 10-game winning streak in the conference tournament.
Xavier, the No. 3 seed, will take on Saint Joseph’s (19-12, 8-6) in the A-10 title game Monday.
For the Owls, Hairston scored 18 points, while senior Fatima Maddox added 10. Sophomore Shenita Landry grabbed 17 rebounds.
For the first time in her career, Hairston was on the losing side of an A-10 tournament game.
“It hurts a lot,” Hairston said behind tear-filled eyes. “I kind of measured this season on whether we could win a title or not, whether I could carry my team. It didn’t happen.”
The Owls (24-7, 13-1 A-10) probably didn’t think the game would come down to Hairston’s last-second shot attempt when they led, 38-29, with 12:40 remaining in the second half.
However, slowly but surely, the Musketeers (25-7, 11-3) mounted a comeback.
Senior Joei Clyburn, who finished with a team-high 15 points in only 27 minutes, scored the next six points for Xavier.
The Musketeers outscored Temple, 12-4, over the next five minutes to make it a one-point game with 7:23 left.
The Musketeers pulled ahead, 45-44, after senior Michele Miller hit a jumper at the 4:01 mark.
Xavier held a 53-51 lead with 31 seconds left when Hairston sank a jumper from the top of the key, tying the game at 53 with 17 seconds remaining.
After Clyburn made 1-of-2 free throws, the Owls had a chance to win, but Hairston’s game-winning shot attempt didn’t find the bottom of the net.
“There were three defenders,” Hairston said. “I was just trying to get it up. But it felt good.”
Once the clock hit zero, the Xavier-heavy crowd erupted into celebration. Clyburn, who, along with Miller defended Hairston on the final possession, ran to half court and jumped into the arms of a teammate.
“I felt relief,” Miller said about watching Hairston’s shot bounce off the rim. “Joei helped me out with the trap and I’m just glad [Hairston] missed it.”
The Owls’ defense allowed several layups in the closing minutes of the game. Xavier scored 33 points in the paint and 10 of their final 12 points were taken from point blank range.
Clyburn, who scored nine points in the second half, caused all types of problems for the Owls. The 6-foot-1 forward hit a crucial three-pointer to keep the Musketeers within six points of the lead midway through the second half.
“I thought Clyburn did a great job at attacking [junior center] Lady [Comfort’s] feet,” Staley said. “We told Lady, ‘Just try to stay in between her and the basket and make her take shots over you.’ I thought [Clyburn] got by her a little bit to get some layups and just took advantage of her.”
Although both teams finished with 12 offensive rebounds, the Musketeers outhustled the Owls on the glass during the game’s crucial moments.
“Late in the game they ate us up,” Hairston said. “That’s how they got their energy. [By] rebounding and putting it back.”
Temple held a slim 26-25 advantage at halftime, but allowed only four points in the first seven minutes of the second half to take a nine-point lead.
That is when Xavier found its stride on offense. The Musketeers outscored Temple, 25-15, in the final 12 minutes, 40 seconds of the game.
“I’m really proud of our team today,” coach Kevin McGuff said. “They showed tremendous heart and resiliency down the stretch.”
Staley said the explanation for the loss was simple.
“They made more shots then we did down the stretch,” she said.
Asked about the Owls’ NCAA Tournament prospects, Staley said she believes Temple can lock up an at-large bid.
“If we make it to the Tournament, I think it’s a big step in the right direction for our program,” Staley said. “I prefer not to put it in the committee’s hands because that’s almost like putting it in the officials’ hands. You can’t do that.
“You want to control your own destiny. We didn’t do it. So we’re at the mercy of the committee. I don’t know what they’re going to come up with, but certainly, I thought this team played well enough to get into the Tournament.”
NO. 5 ST. JOSEPH’S 57, NO. 1 GEORGE WASHINGTON 55
The clock ran out on George Washington’s 19-game winning streak Sunday.
Buoyed by 16 second-half free throws, fifth-seeded St. Joseph’s upset top-seeded George Washington, the No. 9-ranked team in the nation, 57-55, in the A-10 semifinals.
Senior Whitney Ffrench scored all 14 of her points in the second half to help lead the Hawks to victory.
“We knew that if we were to put all the pieces together and play an ‘A’ game, that we were going to possibly come out on top,” Ffrench said.
The Hawks put it together in the crucial moments of the game.
Trailing 48-37 with 5:08 remaining, Ffrench scored 10 of the Hawks’ next 12 points in the span of about three minutes, to bring St. Joseph’s within one point of the lead at the 2:13 mark.
After junior Kimberly Beck made two free throws to give the Colonials (26-3, 14-0) a three-point lead, sophomore Jenna Loschiavo nailed a three-pointer from the left elbow to make it a 53-52 game.
The Hawks’ defense turned up the heat on the Colonials, who were outscored 20-7 in the final five minutes of the game.
“We just turned the ball over a couple times against their press,” George Washington coach Joe McKeown said. “We just threw them the ball. We didn’t do a very good job of handling it.”
The Hawks will play in the A-10 title game for the first time since 2004, when they lost to Temple, 53-48, at the Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse.
“I think it’s a big upset,” coach Cindy Griffin said. “Being able to play a team as talented as George Washington – it was hard to find flaws with them. They were just a solid team all-around. We were able to take advantage of some of their missed shots and I think that was the key. Keeping the score low was [also] a key.”
Sophomore Jessica Adair led the Colonials with 10 points. She was the only player to score in double figures.
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.