skip navigation

St. Joe's men two games from dancing in wide-open A-10 semis

03/16/2024, 12:30am EDT
By Riley Frain

Riley Frain (@RileyFrain)

BROOKLYN — Chaos is reigning supreme at the 2024 Atlantic 10 Men’s Basketball Championship.

In yesterday's quarterfinal round, upsets prevailed as each of the conference’s top four seeds in No. 1 Richmond, No. 2 Loyola-Chicago, No. 3 Dayton and No. 4 UMass all lost out to underdogs.

Cameron Brown (above) celebrates the Hawks' quarterfinal win over Richmond. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

Advancing to the semifinals with a 66-61 win over Richmond on Thursday, St. Joe’s finds itself two wins away from clinching an A-10 Championship and is now Philadelphia’s best shot at a potential men’s NCAA Tournament berth.

The only mid-major conference with nine programs in the top-100 of the rankings on, the A-10’s seedings only seemed like suggestions heading into Brooklyn, and that’s played out on the court. Despite the eight-seed differential between the Spiders and Hawks, KenPom gave St. Joe’s a 44% of winning going into the game, clearly no major upset.

According to graduate guard Cameron Brown, that parity is what’s made this year’s A-10 title wide-open for the taking.

“Honestly, our league is a really good league and throughout the whole year it's been tough to win a game so nothing is really surprising,” said Brown, who’s averaging 11.2 points and shooting 43% from the field in his fifth and final year with the Hawks. “I think everybody had a chance to win it when they walked in here and we believe in ourselves no matter what the outcome of any game is.”

Undoubtedly, it's been a winding road for St. Joe’s (21-12) after going 10-3 in the non-conference slate before finishing just .500 in A-10 play.

While starters like redshirt freshman center Christ Essandoko and junior guard Lynn Greer III battled injuries — only four players have seen action in all 33 games this season — the Hawks could never quite get it rolling, winning five-of-six at one point from Jan. 15 to Feb. 3, but then lost five of the next eight to fall back below the midpoint of the 15-point team.

With Greer averaging a team-leading 3.6 APG and Essandoko playing 20+ MPG when healthy, the depth and versatility of St. Joe’s roster was tested during conference play.

Filling into a major role this season was A-10 Rookie of the Year Xzayvier Brown, the program's first since DeAndre Bemby was selected as Co-ROY in 2014.

Averaging 13.0 PPG and 3.2 APG primarily off the bench, Brown’s development allowed the Hawks to battle through the injury lulls.

“[Against Richmond] we put the ball in [Brown’s] hands a lot and he made some better decisions,” Lange said. “He’s going up against guys that are fourth and fifth-year guys and it’s really challenging to have a freshman point guard in that sense but we found something that we liked.”

Playing late-game hero in St. Joe’s second round and quarterfinal wins was sophomore forward Rasheer Fleming who’s taken a big step forward this year, averaging 11.0 ppg and a team-high 7.3 rpg.

In both contests, clutch free-throw shooting and rebounding has led to Fleming contributing 20 points and 20 boards since the Hawks arrived in Brooklyn. 

“I trust work,” Lange said. “I trust what I believe and what I see and [Fleming] just works. [...] It’s like every single day he just comes back, he works, his body is always full of energy and I think he’s going to be playing in arenas like this for a very, very long time because of that.”

Despite all the ups and downs, St. Joe’s is closing in on the program’s first A-10 Championship crown since 2016. The Hawks will face No. 5 VCU Saturday at 1 p.m. ET at the Barclays Center. 

This is it’s first A-10 semifinal appearance under head coach Billy Lange, who took over from Phil Martelli five years ago and has improved his win total each season.

After a loss to VCU during the regular-season, St. Joe’s went on to win four of its next five and finds itself in a much different spot then when the two programs last faced off only three weeks ago.


Xzayvier Brown (above) was named the 2023-24 Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

“I can’t think far down the line,” Lange said. “My brain isn’t equipped for that right now. But we realize how blessed we are to be in a position to play in an environment like the Barclays Center, in Brooklyn and in March. Being in this semifinals matters and whatever happens after that we’re going to keep the same mindset and attitude.”

Although he might not be interested in addressing it, Lange’s squad is heating up at the right time with three victories in a row and will have a legitimate shot at winning it all in a tightly-contested race.

Leading this late-season push has been St. Joe’s junior guard and All-Conference First Team selection Erik Reynolds II who’s the team's leading scorer this season.

After fighting through a brief slump in-conference, he’s averaging 19.1 ppg over the Hawks’ last seven matchups and led the win over Richmond with a game-high 30 points. 

“The way we started the season was great but coach has told us it doesn’t matter how we got here but we’re here now,” Reynolds said. “We’ve got to live in the moment, make the best of our moment and just take advantage of the opportunity we have.”

Shooting 41% from the field and 38% from deep, Reynolds is one of the main reasons why St. Joe’s currently sits top-100 in adjusted offensive efficiency and top-70 in effective field goal percentage on KenPom.

VCU head coach Ryan Odom knows that there’s no favorites anymore in Brooklyn.

“A lot of respect for [St. Joe’s], they can beat anybody,” he said. “They’ve proven that all year, right? They’ve beaten Villanova and a lot of teams that are really good and they’ve got a dynamite player [in Reynolds], but he’s not the only one. Really impressed with them when we played them in Richmond. Coach Lange has done a great job with that team.”

D-I Coverage:

Small-College News:

Recruiting News:

Tag(s): Home  College  Division I  St. Joe's