PHILADELPHIA (11/29/00) - Sometimes, the "can't-miss" rookie actually follows through on his promise. Of course, for every Peyton Manning, the scene is littered with countless Tony Mandariches -- and telling which is which can be as simple as projecting how well the Ryan Leafs of the world will adjust to the next level. Tonight, the most-hyped recruit of the Phil Martelli Era made his much-anticipated debut at Alumni Memorial Fieldhouse and, despite a few bumps along the way, Saint Joseph's rode the savvy play of freshman point guard Jameer Nelson (12 points, 9 assists, 4 steals, 1 turnover) and the still-hot hand of Marvin O'Connor (22 points) to a 70-65 victory over Old Dominion. The Hawks (4-1) followed Nelson's example, continuing their offensive generosity with 17 assists on 26 field goals. The Monarchs (1-5) chipped in with 20 turnovers, which Saint Joseph's turned into several fast-break layups, including six by O'Connor. Junior center Damian Reid turned in his second consecutive strong performance with a double-double -- 16 points and 10 rebounds. Old Dominion was led by Andre McCullum and Ricardo Marsh with 16 points apiece. While the Hawks built double-digit leads in each half, the Monarchs fought back each time, tying the game at 29-29 a minute before the half and cutting the SJU lead to three, at 66-63, with only 22 seconds remaining in the game on a free throw by Clifton Jones (11 points, 8 rebounds). The last comeback by ODU was kick-started by a technical foul on Hawks center Alexandre Sazonov, who was called for taunting after hanging on the rim after dunking a perfectly-left pass from Nelson. Still, when it mattered most, St. Joe's had Nelson and O'Connor to close things out, which they did by converting four straight free throws to stretch the score to 70-63 before a meaningless layup at the buzzer provided the final score for the Monarchs. After the game, the attention centered on Nelson, the Chester High product who has drawn such high praise from Martelli. "When you have a point guard, you look like a good coach," said Martelli afterward. Then, with tongue planted firmly in cheek, he added, "The one turnover is absolutely inexcusable. I don't understand it. We will have a session to discuss this." "They want to talk about all these kids on the East Coast, [Seton Hall's] Andre Barrett and Omar Cook [of St. John's] ... he can play with any of those guys, " added Martelli. "He's a freshman in class ranking only. He just hasn't taken enough classes to be ranked anything but a freshman here. But in every other thing, he has an old man's game, and he plays the position of point guard." "It's going to be nice to coach a guy like that for 120 games." Asked if Nelson was the best guard to come out of Chester, Martelli was quick to retort, "that depends on if you mean only high school players. Because I played college ball in Chester [at Widener] and he's not better than me." Nelson, who missed by one assist being the first Hawk to post back-to-back double-figure assist games in over twenty years, demurred when informed of his coach's praise. "Nowadays, point guards look to score first. [But] the definition of point guard is to pass first, play defense, then score." So did he take the "old man's game" comment as a compliment? "Yeah, pretty much," said Nelson, laughing. "It's a compliment." Nelson also attributed his game to advice from his backcourt mate, O'Connor. "He told me to play my game, and not play to the crowd. If I had listened to the crowd, they would have been saying to shoot, and I would have taken a bad shot. And then my game wouldn't have been so good." _______________ NOTE: Saint Joseph's is off to their best start, at 4-1, since '95-96, Phil Martelli's first season. Should they go to 5-1 against Rutgers on Dec. 5, it would be the best start to a season since 1981-82 when they started off 6-1 before losing to Creighton, 73-72.
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