PHILADELPHIA (12/11/00) - There were no streamers, no rollouts. Yet for forty minutes tonight, St. Joseph's and Villanova engaged in a good old fashioned Big 5 battle that, quite naturally, came down to a mad scramble in the closing seconds before the outcome could be decided. Despite a career-high-tying 32 points from Marvin O'Connor, a near double-double from Bill Phillips (nine points, 10 rebounds), and leads that at times stretched to as many as eight points in the second half, Saint Joseph's (6-2, 0-1 Big 5) could not overcome either the expected (20 points, 10 rebounds from Michael Bradley) or the unexpected (a season-high 13 points from freshman Reggie Bryant), while shooting only 63% from the foul line en route to dropping their fourth consecutive contest in the series, 78-75 before 8,722 in the "basketball cathedral" known as The Palestra. While St. Joseph's harassed the hot-shooting Wildcats (5-1, 2-0) into their second-worst shooting performance of the season -- the other being against Temple -- they still found themselves down by three points, 76-73, with 25 seconds remaining, following a pair of free throws by Gary Buchanan. As they had all evening, the Hawks looked to O'Connor, whose off-balance shot bounced off the rim before touching off chaos. At around the 10-second mark, in the scramble for the rebound, Bradley tapped the ball back well beyond the half-court stripe. Somehow, the ball kept bouncing toward the far baseline, eluding all those giving chase. Hard contact ensued along the baseline, as members of both squads convened to grasp at the ball. Whistles blew to stop play as the ball rolled out of bounds, and the initial indication from the officials had the ball last touched by Villanova with 4.7 seconds left. Following a brief consultation, the initial ruling was reversed, and the Wildcats were given possession. After successfully inbounding the ball, Villanova was able to run an additional three seconds off the clock before the Hawks were able to make contact for the foul. Bryant made both foul shots for a 78-73 lead, before Alexandre Sazonov closed out the scoring with a layup at the buzzer. After the game, the emphasis was clearly on the atmosphere surrounding the contest. "I thought it was great, really a great atmosphere," said St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. "You can campaign that the game should be here, it should be like that all the time, blah blah blah, on and on and on. But that's not for tonight... There were some odd things, but if odd things didn't happen, it wouldn't be Villanova-St. Joe's, and it wouldn't be the Palestra." Added Villanova coach Steve Lappas, "[The end of the game] was one of those plays that was 'Palestra-ish' or 'Big 5-ish.' There's no other way to describe it." Playing in only his second Big 5 game, Bradley -- a transfer from Kentucky and the notorious Southeastern Conference atmosphere -- noted the significance of City Series play. "It's a great environment," remarked Bradley. "Against Temple, I saw how great it was, and tonight I thought it was probably even better." Bryant, who had two clutch three-pointers to key the Wildcats' resurgence, added that the Big 5 scene was "much like Duke -- the fans really get into it." Still, despite the close nature of the game, Martelli held no disillusions following the contest as to what led to the outcome. "After watching them on tape, including last year against us, I felt that if we could hold them off the offensive glass, we could win the game. I believe that [even reporters] can rebound. All you have to do is throw your gut into it. You have to find a body, put a body on a body, and go get the ball. And we didn't do that enough times. We stopped their initial thrust, and then we didn't rebound the basketball. "We lost to a very good team, and they won the game. But we shot 60-some percent from the foul line, and gave up 17 offensive rebounds. We're going to face this [type of] game 16 times in the league, and we must rebound the basketball." "There's disappointment, but we'll go on. And foul shooting... our goal is to lead the Atlantic 10 -- that takes 75%. So do the math... if you're 75%, we win the game. It's a simple game to me, and we didn't do those two fundamental things." The Hawks next travel to Chicago to face DePaul, currently 4-3 on the season before facing Kansas Tuesday night on ESPN. NOTES: Despite Jameer Nelson failing to reach double digits in scoring for the first time this season, Martelli isn't concerned. "Other than that one little play where he crossed over in front of Medley... That's really the only time he looked like an 18-year old. But the rest of the time, what did he have? Seven assists? Four turnovers? He guarded the heck out of Medley. If I have to worry about him, I'll sleep like a baby." Small forward Frank Wilkins reaffirmed his position in the starting five with an inspired performance that went beyond the numbers -- 6 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 blocks. Wilkins was seemingly everywhere during his 24-minute stint, making each of his points and rebound count at the most opportune time. Wilkins offered his thoughts after the game: "The first half I was actually thinking to myself, 'Man, this would be a great game to be watching on TV, sitting in front of a big screen.'" Regarding the Hawks' annual shopping trip for needy West Philadelphia familes, Martelli noted that, "Tomorrow is the best day of St. Joe's basketball we can have. Every year, tomorrow is the best day, because we go shopping for the three needy families that we adopt in West Philly. "So, you take the hurt now, but at 4:00 tomorrow I want them clear-eyed and ready to go, because a lot of people who gave to us tonight give back, and a lot of people give to these kids over and over and over. It's time for us to give back us, and that's what we'll do. "I've had six great nights, six superior nights, as basketball coach at Saint Joe's. Tomorrow will be the sixth, and it's what we do for others, not what people have done for us."
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