By Joseph Santoliquito
Buffalo, NY (CBS)—Halil Kanacevic kept looking up the clock, wishing, willing, hoping against reality that something would change what was unfolding. A great effort by St. Joseph’s was wilting under UConn’s length and its star guard Shabazz Napier.
And there was nothing Kanacevic, the Hawks’ gutsy, 6-8 senior forward and linchpin, could do strapped to the bench having fouled out.
The Hawks, who led by as much as 10 in the first half and by five at halftime, struggled without their glue, and eventually fell to UConn, 89-81 in overtime, Thursday night in the second round of the NCAA Tournament at the First Niagra Center, in Buffalo, N.Y.
The loss ended a great season for the Hawks, who finished 21-10 and had their dreams dashed of possibly facing Villanova in the third round on Saturday. Instead, the Hawks will be watching the rest of the tournament, thanks to Napier’s team-high 24 points, and despite a game-high 25 from Hawks’ senior guard Langston Galloway.
What haunted the Hawks all season surfaced again—free-throw shooting. With 2:39 left in overtime, DeAndre Bembry missed the front end of a one-and-one, and the Hawks down, 75-73. A pair of free throw could have tied it. That was the closest St. Joe’s would come in OT.
The real dagger to the Hawks came in regulation, when Huskies’ freshmen center Amida Brimah stretched every bit of his 7-foot frame to yank down an offensive rebound, score and get fouled with :39 left in regulation.
Brimah nailed the free throw, tying the game at 70-70, and that seemed to be the beginning of the end for St. Joe’s. It was Kanacevic’s fourth foul, and just 93 seconds into overtime, he fouled out.
Napier was too much for the Hawks to stay with. His twisting, contorting layup with 1:20 left in overtime led to a three-point play and gave the Huskies an 80-73 edge.
With :37 left, a pair of Galloway free throws pulled the Hawks to within 84-79, but St. Joe’s couldn’t deny Napier again, whose two free throws put the game out of reach with :36 to play. UConn forced 14 turnovers and made 15 of 16 free throws in overtime.
Kanacevic finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and a team-high five assists.
Joseph Santoliquito is a contributing sports blogger for CBS Philly.