Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications  
Release:  09/01/2004
PHILADELPHIA (02/24/03) - On the first play of tonight's Saint Joseph's-La Salle game, junior Jameer Nelson stripped Jermaine Thomas and went in for an uncontested layup. It was sign of things to come as the Hawks (20-4, 10-3 A-10, 4-0 Big Five) used their tenacious defense to strangle the Explorers (10-14, 4-9 A-10, 0-3 Big Five) on offense, leading SJU to a 75-53 victory at the historic Palestra. With the win, Saint Joseph's completed a perfect Big Five season and won the City Series title for the first time since 1980. The Hawks recorded their first three goals of the season - reach 20 wins, win the Big Five, and clinch a bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. "Tonight we put our first three accomplishments on the board," head coach Phil Martelli said. Not only did Saint Joseph's complete the City Series sweep, but it did so in dominating fashion. The combined margin of victory was 67 points, one better than the Hawk team of 1965-66 for the largest in Big Five history. SJU also won all four games by double-digits, just the second team to do so - joining Temple's 1957-58 team. Add in two more city victories, a A-10 win over Temple and a victory over Drexel in the Big Five Tripleheader, and you have a team that finished 6-0 against teams from the City of Brotherly Love. Nelson played a tremendous floor game, scoring a game high 18 points, collecting seven rebounds and dishing six assists against just one turnover. "The numbers don't lie. This kid is the most valuable player to his team in the country," Martelli said. Sophomore Pat Carroll added 12 and classmate Delonte West scored ten, despite his worst shooting night of the season. Showing signs of his recently diagnosed stress fracture, the southpaw struggled to find his stroke, going just 2-for-13 on the night. His first field goal didn't come until the 6:33 mark in the second half and his last was a thunderous lefty slam that put an exclamation point on the Big Five title with a minute to go. The Hawks were especially stifiling in the first half, holding La Salle to just 21% shooting. Junior Tyrone Barley was in charge of defending La Salle's Gary Neal, the reigning Big Five Player of the Week and an owner of three consecutive 30-point games. The rookie was forced into numerous contested shots and finished with a team-high 13 points, on just 5-of-13 shooting. As a team, the Explorers shot 26% for the game. "I think it was, again, stunning defense," head coach Martelli said. On Barley's performance guarding Neal, the Hawk general cited his guard as the best defender in the conference. He wasn't the only Explorer to struggle from the field. David Bell was 0-for-9 in the first half and ended 2-for-15, as he battled a Hawk frontline that was rejecting shots left and right. Freshman center Dwyane Jones, who had a career high 14 rebounds, swatted three shots, as did junior Chris Cologer (six points), who provided valuable minutes in the paint. Martelli praised both. "His [Jones] rebounding and blocked shots have been extraordinary. In the next three years, he could be a dominant big man in this league. Chris Cologer did a terrific job in the first half." The Crimson and Gray started off the game on a 10-2 run and thought that the run would deflate the young Explorers. La Salle bounced back, going on a 10-2 run of its own to tie the score at 12. After trading baskets for the next six minutes, Saint Joseph's would erupt for a 12-1 spree that would break the game open. Carroll deposited two charity tosses and followed that with a three-ball to extend the lead to 25-22. Nelson would then spin in a nifty reverse lay-up and make a foul shot. After two more Carroll free throws, Nelson would hit a 16-footer to give SJU a 32-22 lead. It wouldn't look back. The closely called, foul plagued half had West on the bench with three fouls, along with La Salle's Dzaflo Larkai and Thomas. Both teams combined for 45 fouls and 51 foul shots in the game, a contest that saw two players (Carroll and Thomas) foul out. Similar to the first stanza, St. Joe's started the second half withr a 9-2 run. La Salle would get as close as 13 the rest of the way on a Bell layup at the 14:48 mark, but SJU would continue its defensive pressure to coast to the win. Up 71-51 with a minute to play, three consecutive monster dunks, one by West and two by Cologer, would put the finishing touches on the first Big Five title in of the Martelli era. Despite going 1-for-7 in the early going from the charity stripe, SJU recovered to shoot 70% for the game. It also had a season-high 53 rebounds, led by Jones' career high. St. Joe's is off until Saturday, March 1, when it hosts Richmond at the Fieldhouse. Tip off is set for 7 p.m. Daily News | Inquirer