PHILADELPHIA (3-3-01) - Like he has done so many times in this magical season, junior Marvin O'Connor lifted up his St. Joseph's teammates and put them on his back down the stretch. But this time, despite a Herculean last minute in which the Hawk guard tallied 18 of his team's 20 points, SJU fell short in its first ever visit to the Gola Arena, losing its regular season finale to the host Explorers, 91-90. O'Connor finished the game with a career high 37 points - the most by an SJU player since Tony Costner set the school's single game mark with 47 against Alaska-Anchorage on December 30, 1983. And his refusal to let his team lose was never as evident as in the final chaotic minute of this game. Trailing 80-70, O'Connor embarked on his incredible run, which undoubtedly is an NCAA record (if one was kept for scoring in the final minute). He drained three of his six three-pointers in what amounted to a 20-11 run, and connected on three free throws off a foul on another attempt from long range. He also scored on two layups and connected on two more free throws for his 18 points. La Salle, which has been a thorn in the Hawks side of late, overcame the run with solid free throw shooting. The Explorers hit 11 of 14 in the final minute, including their last 10 in a row to seal the win. Julian Blanks, who tallied 20 points while dishing 7 assists with just one turnover, accounted for the three missed free throws, but also drained the final two with eight seconds remaining to ice it. Luckily he did as O'Connor raced down the court and nailed a long range "three" with 2.6 seconds remaining to account for the final score. "We stretched the game as far as you can stretch it," stated Hawk coach Phil Martelli, who saw his team's 10-game win streak come to an end. "We were not on top of it, that is the coaches fault," he added. "I just told the team that that is on me. We came with less than our "A" game, and we walked out with a loss." The game started off with the Hawks jumping out to a nine-point lead (28-19, 9:15) as O'Connor tallied eight of his 13 first half points in the run. The Explorers hung tough, as Victor Thomas ran off eight points in a 9-1 run to cut the margin to one, 30-29, at the 5:56 mark. The game stayed even the rest of the period with the Hawks taking a37-34 lead into the lockerroom. La Salle stormed out with an 11-2 run fueled by seven Rasual Butler points to take a 45-39 lead in the first two-and-a-half minutes. Following a Hawk timeout, SJU answered with a 10-0 run of its own as Bill Phillips tallied eight of his 18 in the spurt to give the Hawks a 49-45 advantage at the 14:43 mark. SJU built the margin to five, 52-47, before a 13-0 Explorer run with reserve guard Rasheed Quadri draining two "threes", lifted La Salle to an eight point advantage, 60-52, at the 9:15 mark. The Hawks cut that deficit to two, 66-64, with just 4:14 remaining before La Salle went on a mini-run to take a 10-point lead, setting up the longest minute in college basketball this season. "Obviously you are going to focus on the three scorers," said Martelli on Thomas (26), Butler (25) and Blanks (20). " I said to Jameer before that as Blanks plays, they play. So for him to get 20 that hurts." "But I will be honest with you, (James) Jordan makes a jump shot and banks in a foul shot and the other kid (Quadri) makes two threes, he is 2-15 for the year, it is more the role players (that hurt us)." Lost in all the mayhem was freshman Jameer Nelson (10 points) setting the school's single season assist mark. Nelson, who now has 180 assists on the season, passed Matt Guokas, Jr.'s mark of 176 with a nice dish to Frank Wilkins with 9:03 to play. O'Connor also notched a milestone, becoming just the fourth Hawk, and the first since Mike Bantom (1971-72) to score 600 points in a season. He now has 606 and counting on the year. So now the Hawks, 24-5, 14-2 in A-10, will regroup and get ready for the Verizon Atlantic 10 Championships. SJU, the #1 seed, will await Wednesday's winner of the Fordham-La Salle (12-15, 5-11) game. If history repeats, and it often does, it will be these Explorers the Hawks will face in the quarterfinals. The two teams have met in the A-10 tourney in each of the past three years.
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