CINCINNATI (AP) Coach Karl Hobbs got right to the point in his pregame pep talk.
The only charter member of the Atlantic 10 that hadn't won its tournament was getting another chance, one that George Washington couldn't afford to waste by getting nervous or rattled.
"I just told our team, 'Hey, it's our time,"' Hobbs said.
After 29 years as an also-ran, the Colonials finally got to wear the nets around their necks. T.J. Thompson led a late 12-point run, and George Washington got its elusive title with a 76-67 victory Saturday over Saint Joseph's.
The Colonials (22-7) lost title games in 1991 and 1998, going a long time between chances to shed their distinction. They became an afterthought during two losing seasons in 2001-03, before rebounding with an NIT berth last year and, now, their first NCAA appearance in six years.
"I'm still amazed," said Thompson, sitting with the net slung around his neck and the game ball cradled in his lap. "In my first two years here, we were at the bottom of the league, in last place. Last year we took a step forward in the NIT. But nothing compares with the feeling when you win the A10."
Another solid game by Pat Carroll wasn't nearly enough for Saint Joseph's (19-11), which had the tournament's top seed. Carroll had 25 points, but the Hawks went only 9-of-27 from behind the 3-point arc and faded down the stretch.
"They have tremendous quickness, a lot of balance," coach Phil Martelli said. "And I think their balance did us in with 8 minutes left. Our defense let down and with their quickness, they were able to exploit it."
Carroll's 3-pointer gave Saint Joseph's its final lead, 49-46, with 6:52 to go. Thompson's 3 and his driving layup started the decisive run - he had eight of the 12 points. Omar Williams led George Washington with 20 points, and Thompson finished with 15.
Both teams sensed they had to win to make the NCAA tournament. George Washington was the only Atlantic 10 team to win 20 games, and none of the league's teams has persuasive RPI numbers.
"We knew that if we lost, it would be highly unlikely that we'd get an at-large bid," Colonials center Pops Mensah-Bonsu said.
Saint Joseph's regrouped after making the NCAA's final eight last year behind Jameer Nelson and Delonte West, who went to the NBA. The Hawks got off to a 3-6 start before jelling around Carroll, the conference's co-Player of the Year.
"We ended up 16-5 in our last 21 games," Carroll said. "That speaks a lot to the coaching staff getting players to believe we were a good team when we started 3-6. The coaches turned our attitude and we started believing in ourselves."