NEW YORK -- St. Joseph's created some havoc of its own in the final minutes, cutting deep into what had once been a 17-point deficit before 25th-ranked Virginia Commonweathv held off the Hawks.
The teams battled through an intense game, with the second-seeded Rams, known for their infamous Havoc pressing defense, surviving a frenzied final two minutes for an 82-79 win Friday night at the Barclays Center.
"It's a hard-fought game," VCU coach Shaka Smart said after his team made its Atlantic 10 Tournament debut following 17 seasons in the Colonial Athletic Association. "Give St. Joe's a lot of credit, they really came at us."
Along the way to its trip to the semifinals, VCU watched a 15-point lead shrink to four in the final two minutes and Smart jawed with some of the Hawks, including volatile forward Halil Kanacevic. Kanacevic, infamous for flipping off the Villanova fans earlier this season, was called for a momentum-turning Flagrant-1 foul after throwing an elbow he later said was inadvertent midway through the second half -- a key stretch that helped the Rams turn what had been a single-digit lead to 17.
Kanacevic later labeled the call "horrible," "nonsense" and a "girl foul," ranting about the play that came with 11:22 to play in the game and VCU up 51-43.
The St. Joseph's women's team -- set to play Fordham in the A-10 women's title game Saturday night in Brooklyn -- might take exception to that last reference, which came at the end of a tension-filled night in which St. Joseph's ended a disappointing A-10 season.
Treveon Graham led VCU (25-7, 13-4 Atlantic 10) with 17 points. Troy Daniels had 14 points and Rob Bradenberg added 13 for the Rams, who will play the Temple-UMass winner at 4 p.m. Saturday. Briante Weber became the school's all-time steals leader after picking up six.
Carl Jones scored 29 points to lead St. Joseph's (18-13, 8-9) while passing the 1,800-point mark for his career. Langston Galloway, who sent the Hawks to the quarterfinals with two last-second free throws Thursday against Xavier, added 25 for St. Joseph's.
"I told them to play a full 40 (minutes) and, obviously, we did, playing to the last possession there," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "We didn't play well, but we played hard."
The Hawks were down 51-43 with 11:22 left in the second half when Kanacevic was called for elbowing Graham as Kanacevic drove to the basket. Kanacevic, who jawed with VCU earlier in the game and did a push-up after drawing a foul in the first half -- protested the call and was indignant after the game.
"I'm going to the basket, why would I try to elbow somebody? You know what I mean?" Kanacevic said, adding he had to be told later that he had made contact. "That's just nonsense. That's just somebody trying to make a call to make a call. It's crazy. There's plenty of contact going on down low that you let go, you're going to call something like that? That's a girl foul, you know what I mean? It's a horrible call. You don't call that.
"Nonetheless, we need to play better basketball, but those things change the play. ... They made that terrible call on me. That's bad. And the game was close at that point. That's pretty bad, you know what I mean? If you're gonna let us play, let us play. And a play like that, where the ref said it was unintentional -- he actually said it's unintentional -- and still called a flagrant. It's absurd, actually."
Technically, NCAA rules were amended a few years ago to remove the "intentional" foul language, because intent is not supposed to be considered. Rather the rule relates to "non-excessive contact with an opponent above the shoulders."
Martelli later said it was a tough swing for his team as a basket was waved off and, instead of trailing by six, the Hawks went down 10 when Graham hit his two free throws. "But," Martelli said, "it didn't stop us from playing and I tried not to dwell on it in my own head because I thought it was a hard game.
"I have nothing but praise for those guys," Martelli added of the refs.
"There was a little jawing out there," Smart said of his exchanges with the Hawks. "But there's nothing wrong with that. That's what happens. I like that. There were some guys talking trash to me before the game, I just smiled. I like that."
Daniels added a 3-pointer 12 seconds after Graham hit his free throws and Darius Theus added a layup a little more than a minute after that and VCU led 58-43 with 9:59 to play.
St. Joseph's threatened late with a 12-2 run, getting within 74-69 when Jones hit a 3-pointer with just under a minute left. Another 3 by Galloway got it to 80-76 with 9.1 seconds remaining, but a dunk by Weber capped the win for VCU, which hit 8 of 10 free throws in the final minute.
Papa Ndao hit a 3 for St. Joseph's at the buzzer.
"Coach just said, 'Just keep playing hard and just give it our all, fight to the end,' and that's what we did," Galloway said.
Trailing 33-23 at halftime, St. Joseph's started the second half on a 12-5 run to pull within 38-35 when Jones hit a 3-pointer with 16:58 remaining.
But the Rams scored on three straight 3-pointers to boost the lead back to 10.
NOTES: VCU's 12 steals gave it the school's single-season record with 382. Weber's six steals gave him 91 on the year, breaking the previous mark of 88 by Rolando Lamb. ... Only two other St. Joseph's players have reached the 1,800-point milestone. Jameer Nelson (2000-04) had 2,094 and Bernard Blunt (1990-95) had 1,985.