NELSON LEADS HAWKS PAST GEORGE MASON IN NIT OPENER, 73-64
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications
FAIRFAX, VA (03/12/02) - Saint Joseph's officially started its second season on Tuesday night at George Mason in the opening round of the NIT, and the team's stellar backcourt looked like it was back on familiar ground. Sophomor Jameer Nelson, who ran rings around the Patriot guards, led the way with 28 points - one shy of his career high - and senior Marvin O'Connor added 14 to lift SJU to a 73-64 win. The Hawks (19-11) will now play Ball State on Friday evening, the place and site to be determined on Wednesday morning. Nelson and O'Connor had to step up their play as their backcourt mate senior Na'im Crenshaw was not with the team. Crenshaw, who missed practice on Sunday, was suspended by Hawk coach Phil Martelli for the game. He will be available for the rest of the tournament. "I did not think that they had a match-up where they could guard Jameer," stated Martelli, who is a perfect 4-0 in first round postseason games. "In Marvin's case, he showed great senior leadership. And to be honest with you we have not had that early." "Marvin has been verbal with these guys since Sunday when we met, and it is a tribute to his character that we are able to go forward." The Hawks started slowly, as first team all-Colonial Athletic Association center Jesse Young had his way inside, tallying 11 of the Patriots first 16 points to help GMU jump out to a 16-12 lead. Martelli then switched his defense on Young, playing behind the 6-10 junior, and limiting him to two free throws the rest of the half. SJU came to life offensively midway through the first half. With the score tied at 24, the Hawks went on a 12-2 run to take a 36-26 lead. Nelson drained two three-pointers and dished two assists during the run. The Patriots cut it to five, 38-33, and looked to be on the move, but Nelson burst GMU's bubble with a three-pointer with one second to play in the half to give SJU a 41-33 lead at intermission. It was all SJU in the first 10 minutes of the second half as the team exploded out of the locker room to build a 58-40 lead. The Hawks used a balanced attack in building the margin, and were all over the floor, quick to the ball and strong on the offensive glass. Then, when things were going so well, the game turned. Nelson, driving the lane on a two-on-one break, dished a no-look pass behind to what he thought was a trailing Delonte West. Instead, GMU's Colin Wyatt was there for the steal. That bizarre play started a 13-0 Patriot run, cutting the Hawk lead to five, 58-53, with 7:19 remaining. SJU missed two shots on its next possession, but grabbed offensive rebounds on each miss. With the crowd of 3,355 in a frenzy, O'Connor dished to Bill Phillips for lay-up ending the SJU dry spell. Nelson then took over, hitting a lay-up on the Hawks next possession to push the margin to nine. He then made 11 straight free throws to put the game away. Phillips, who came up one shy of his 1,000th SJU point, posted his sixth double-double of the season, tallying 10 points and tying his season high with 14 rebounds. He also dished five assists. Freshman Pat Carroll had three points and two rebounds starting in place of Crenshaw while West came off the bench to contribute eight points and seven rebounds. GMU, which ended its season with a 19-10 record, was led by the coach's son, Jon Larranaga, who tallied 22 points. Young finished with 19 and grabbed a team high eight rebounds.