HILADELPHIA -- Massachusetts' 68-57 victory over St. Joseph's on Monday night wasn't a work of art but it was good enough to send the eighth-ranked Minutemen home for a chance at a fourth straight Atlantic 10 title sweep.
The Minutemen (25-4) will play host to Thursday night's championship game against the winner of the semifinal between Temple and Rutgers.
Massachusetts has won the regular-season title the last four years and is bidding for its fourth consecutive tournament title, all at home.
The only school to win as many as four consecutive regular-season and tournament championships was North Carolina State in the Southern Conference. The Wolfpack won five straight from 1947-51.
"We're feeling pretty good about having a chance to do what only one other school has done," said Lou Roe, the conference's player of the year. "We have a chance to have two more good practices."
Massachusetts coach John Calipari was impressed that his team was able to advance despite not having a solid offensive outing.
"At times we were a little ragged but you have to credit St. Joe's for making us play ragged," he said.
Even the inside game of Marcus Camby and Roe wasn't its usual self against the Hawks (17-11) as Camby missed his first six shots from the field before scoring all of his nine points in the final 14:41. Roe finished with 11 points on 4-for-9 shooting and had 11 rebounds.
"I told Marcus at halftime to keep playing hard because he had his head down," Calipari said.
Camby did have five blocked shots.
"The blocks get it all started for us," said the sophomore center who was runner-up to Roe for player of the year honors. "We're coming together and playing to get a high seed in the NCAA tournament and that should make it easier to get to (the Final Four)."
Edgar Padilla and Donta Bright led the Minutemen with 12 points each.
Bernard Blunt led the fifth-seeded Hawks, whose double-overtime quarterfinal victory over St. Bonaventure didn't end until after midnight Monday, with 18 points, while Mark Bass added 12.
"I might have been tired," St. Joseph's forward Carlin Warley said, "but we're playing UMass in the semifinals of the A-10. I got pumped walking on the court and then we did the best we could.
The Hawks started the second half with a 9-0 run to take a 33-32 lead, but Massachusetts came back with its own 9-0 run for a 41-33 lead with 14:41 to play. The lead went to 45-35 with 11:21 left as the Hawks only managed two free throws over a 7:02 span.
"We were playing very tentative at the beginning of the second half and I called a timeout and told them we were playing not to lose and I wasn't going to let that happen," Calipari said.
Camby's block of a short jumper by Will Johnson led to a layup by Bright that gave the Minutemen their largest lead of the game, 60-47, with 3:52 to play.
"Our kids played as hard as they could," St, Joseph's coach John Griffin said. "Both teams played hard but they made a few more plays than we did."
Both Calipari and Griffin said they feel the Hawks deserve to be in the NCAA's field of 64.
"You can't tell me there are 50 teams better than them," Calipari said.
"We have a great case for ourselves with our power rating," Griffin said of the Hawks who are 45th in the latest RPI. "If the A-10 doesn't get three teams in the tournament they deserve to be mad."
|St. Joseph's Hawks||57|
|Massachusetts Minutemen (#8)||68|
|Atlantic-10 Tournament Semi-final|
at the Palestra, Philadelphia PA
MASSACHUSETTS (68) -- Dana Dingle 4-6 0-1 8, Donta Bright 6-9 0-0 12, Jason Germain 0-0 0-0 0, Edgar Padilla 3-9 5-6 12, Derek Kellogg 3-9 1-4 9, Louis Roe 4-9 3-7 11, Marcus Camby 4-11 1-3 9, Carmelo Travieso 1-5 0-0 3, Jeff Meyer 0-0 0-0 0, Tyrone Weeks 2-4 0-0 4, Ted Cottrell 0-0 0-0 0, Rigoberto Nunez 0-0 0-0 0. TOTALS: 27-62 (43.5%) 10-21 (47.6%) 68.
HALFTIME: Massachusetts 32, St. Joseph's 24. 3-POINTERS: Massachusetts 4-13 (Kellogg 2-6, Padilla 1-2, Travieso 1-5), St. Joseph's 2-9 (Bass 2-7, Myers 0-1, Bey 0-1). REBOUNDS: Massachusetts 46 (Roe 11), St. Joseph's 36 (Blunt 8). ASSISTS: Massachusetts 17 (Padilla 5), St. Joseph's 8 (Warley 3). FOULED OUT: None. TECHNICAL FOULS: Bright, Warley. TOTAL FOULS: Massachusetts 18, St. Joseph's 22. ATTENDANCE: 8,722. RECORDS: Massachusetts 25-4, St. Joseph's 17-11.
St. Joseph's 24 33 -- 57 Massachusetts 32 36 -- 68