St. Joseph women’s basketball upsets Rhode Island in Atlantic 10 tournament

St. Joe's celebrates after defeating Rhode Island 51-48 in the Atlantic 10 women's basketball tournament quarterfinals.

St. Joseph’s women’s basketball season survives another day as the Hawks upset Rhode Island, 51-48, in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Tournament at Chase Fieldhouse in Wilmington, Del.

The Hawks were outscored in every quarter except the third.

“We showed a lot of determination, resilience,” said head coach Cindy Griffin. “[Our kids] responded at half time and did an amazing job.

After missing all three points in the first half, seventh-seeded St. Joe’s knocked down four in the third quarter, outscoring the second-seeded Rams 20-8. In the fourth quarter, Rhode Island recovered, but free throws and dogged defense gave the Hawks the win.

Freshman Laila Fair led St. Joe’s (13-16) with 17 points, and freshman Talya Brugler scored 10.

“[Laila and my] the connection we had developed all this season showed up for us, especially today with the high-low matchups we could find; we took advantage of that,” Brugler said.

Emmanuelle Tahane led Rhode Island (22-6) with 13 points.

After scoring just three of nine field goals to open the game, St. Joe’s settled in and found their offensive rhythm behind Fair and Brugler – the same duo who scored a combined 40 points Thursday in a 65-win win. 49 against Duquesne.

Fair scored eight of the Hawks’ 15 first quarter points on Friday, including back-to-back layups. Brugler had two early buckets, also layups.

Tied at 15 after the first ten minutes, Rhode Island opened the second quarter on a 5-0 run after back-to-back turnovers at St. Joe’s.

St. Joe’s trailed 25-21 at halftime.

In deja vu mode from Thursday, the Hawks again missed their first seven three-point attempts on Friday.

Luckily for St. Joe’s, Rhode Island didn’t score from deep either. The Rams only made two three-pointers in the first half.

“We challenged the guards [at half] because the post players had carried us in the first half,” Griffin said. “We changed our attack a bit.”

Julia Nyström knocked down St. Joe’s first three-pointer with 9 minutes and 48 seconds left in the third quarter, the opening bucket of the second half. Brugler and Fair followed with back-to-back layups in a 7-0.

The push put the Hawks ahead, 28-25.

But the second-half three-point barrage was just the start. Mackenzie Smith nailed one and Nystrom hit two more. The Hawks offense completely flipped from the first half and the Hawks led 37-31.

Olivia Mullins hit a buzzer-beating jumper to end the third quarter, extending St. Joe’s lead to eight points.

“Our motto for this week is we bend but don’t break,” Brugler said. “We were a bit down at the start of the fourth quarter, but we knew we had to come out strong and finish what we started.”

Rhode Island opened the fourth quarter on a 9-3 streak, nearly wiping out St. Joe’s lead.

With two minutes remaining, the Hawks held a 48-44 advantage. Rhode Island then hit two free throws and St. Joe’s couldn’t score on the ensuing possession.

But a missed jumper from Rhode Island and a defensive rebound from St. Joe with 25 seconds left forced the Rams to foul. Guard Katie Jekot hit two free throws to increase the lead to four points with 19.7 seconds left.

Rhode Island hit a layup and Jekot made a free throw to increase the lead to three. The Rams couldn’t get a shot as time ran out.

The win was Griffin’s 350th coaching win at St. Joe’s.

The Hawks are the lowest seed remaining in the conference tournament and will face winner Fordham-Massachusetts in the semifinals on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.