PHILADELPHIA, PA (2/28/01) - At halftime of tonight's SJU-Massachusetts game, St. Joseph's honored their 1985-86 Atlantic 10 Championship team. At the time, it looked about as close as the Hawks would get to a title for the night. Following a first half that saw UMass score what was easily their highest first-half total of the season Victory, Atlantic 10 Title engineered a comeback that can only be described as ridiculous. Torched by Minutemen senior guard Monty Mack for 11 points in the first stanza, and by UMass' stable of big men (Jackie Rogers, 10 points at the half; Kitwana Rhymer, 7 points; and Micah Brand, 6 points), the Hawks made adjustments in their assignments at the half and also cranked it up a notch at the defensive end of the court. Offense flowed from defense, and the Hawks turned a 16-point deficit into a 15-point victory, 84-69 before a sold-out, rabid crowd at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse, claiming their first outright Atlantic 10 Championship since that 85-86 squad. The turnaround was led by Marvin O'Connor, who scored 11 of his 21 points in the second half and who, quite frankly, refused to allow his team to lose. Beginning the second half, O'Connor followed a missed three-point attempt with a pull-up jumper to get St. Joseph's going, then drove the lane three times in four possessions to dump the ball to the Hawks' big men, Damian Reid and Bill Phillips. The seemingly insurmountable 16-point halftime lead was suddenly a manageable 10-point number, and the previously stunned crowd was back into the game. "It was a good thing to get them going on offense," said O'Connor, "because then they played their butts off on defense." "In the first half, they treated our big men like they were invisible," said Hawks' coach Phil Martelli. The Hawks' defensive intensity, characterized by O'Connor diving for seemingly every loose ball, was such that the Minutemen managed to shoot only 6 for 30 in the second half, or a 20% clip. In all, the Hawks outscored UMass 51-20 after the break for a 31-point swing. After shooting a mere 36% in the first half, the Hawks shot the lights out in the second, making 17 of 25, including 6 of 9 three-pointers, for a 68% clip en route to shooting 51% for the game. The Minutemen converted only six field goals in the half, and Mack did not score until he converted a free throw with 2:56 remaining in the game and the Hawks holding a 73-61 lead. After his 11 first-half points, Mack finished with only 15 for the game. Regardless of the process needed to get there, the Hawks were able to celebrate a championship afterward. "I'm delighted for our seniors," Martelli said. "They've been kicked to the side, they've been knocked down and now they can always be A-10 regular-season champs."
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