PHILADELPHIA, PA (1-27-01) -- All the talk concerning St. Joseph's surprising start has been focused on the team's offensive firepower. With five double figure scorers and an offense that ranks first in every major category in the Atlantic 10, it is not "idle" talk. But in a Philadelphia Big Five war at a sold out Palestra (8,722) against Penn, it was the defense that helped St. Joe's prevail for a 67-61 win. That should also be no surprise to Hawk followers, since SJU is first in three-point percentage defense and second in field goal percentage defense in the Atlantic 10. "This team's defense has been kind of overlooked," stated Martelli. "Because we are shooting close to 50 percent, lead the A-10 in scoring, the number of assists we get." "But really, this team's defense has been exceptional. And what we do, we end up leaving our inside guys alone, one-on-one, because we are so emphatic about taking away the three-pointer. And tonight I thought our defense was exceptional throughout the game." SJU, which upped its record to 16-4 on the year (2-1 in Big 5 play), held Penn (5-11, 0-3) to 37.9 percent from the field. The Quakers stayed close by nailing 11 three-pointers on 27 attempts, with guard Lamar Plummer (18 PTS) nailing 4-of-11. But it was SJU's interior play, especially that of Bill Phillips on Ugonna Onykewe (3-15 FGs, 6 PTS), that led the way. Phillips, who defended the Quakers' leading scorer, also posted his sixth double-double on the year (14, 12 rebs) to help SJU to a dominating 44-26 edge on the glass. Onykewe played an intergral part in last year's Penn win over SJU, tallying 20 points in that contest. "He is just a good player," stated Martelli on Phillips's defense on Onykewe. "He plays such a smart game that he does not get credit for how hard he plays." "We thought we had a height advantage and we wanted to take advantage of it," said Marvin O'Connor on the Hawks' rebounding. "But I thought that our guards did a good job of attacking the glass also. We always get a good job from Damian (Reid) and Bill (Phillips) and Alex (Sazonov), but our guards played a key role tonight." O'Connor not only led the Hawk guards in rebounding with five, but also led the game in scoring with 19 points. The 6-4 junior drained two straight 3-pointers after Penn had cut a 17-point margin (44-27, 14:40) to six points, extending the SJU lead to 59-47 with 6:23 to play. Penn would again make a run at SJU, cutting the lead to four, 62-58, at the 2:13 mark, on the strength of a 7-0 run. Plummer then stole the ball from Na'im Crenshaw, but Onykewe missed a jumper on the ensuing possession. Another Crenshaw turnover gave the Quakers a shot at cutting the margin to one possession, but Plummer misses a deep 3-pointer. The Hawks then made 5-of-8 free throws to seal the game. "At the Palestra the game is never over." stated O'Connor on Penn's comeback. "The ball has slowed down," added Martelli on his offensive woes. "We had 18 assists on 24 baskets but the ball is slow. I have to look at it along with the coaches and find out what it is. We have too many options, five guys averaging double figures we should be able to find the advantage where it is." Another defensive standout was sophomore Alexandre Sazonov. The 7-1 Russian not only altered shots,but swatted away four Quaker attempts while scoring seven points and grabbing five rebounds. He now has 36 blocks on the season, 10th best season total at SJU, and most since Rodney Blake blocked 116 in 1987-88. "He can play," stated Martelli on his reserve center. "He has unlimited potential. He is a terrific young player for us." The Hawks shot just 45.3 percent from the field, but from three-point range, SJU connected on 10-19 (.526), with O'Connor nailing 5-of-9 from long range. The Hawks host St. Bonaventure at the Fieldhouse on Thursday (8:00 PM/CSN). It is the team's lone game over the next 10 days.
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