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HAWKS' COMEBACK FALLS JUST SHORT
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications  
Release:  09/01/2004
DAYTON, OH (3/14/03) -- In this overachieving season of unlikely success, Saint Joseph's very nearly pulled off its biggest surprise Friday night in the Atlantic 10 Championship semifinals. Down by 19 to Dayton -- which as a lower seed was playing as the nominal visiting team in its own building -- the Hawks staged a second-half comeback for the ages. With the vast majority of the 11,658 in attendance howling on behalf of the Flyers, SJU twice knotted the score with under four minutes to go, only to fall just short in the end, 76-73. In a performance reminiscent of Marvin O'Connor's 37-point explosion against Stanford in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, junior guard Jameer Nelson almost single-handedly led the Hawks to the improbably victory. Nelson's 39 points -- on 11-for-19 shooting from the floor and 14-for-16 from the line -- were a career best, and the sixth best in SJU history. Saint Joseph's had a final, last-second chance for a three-pointer to tie the game, but Pat Carroll was stripped of the ball while going up for the shot. In a tightly called game, the rare non-call prevented Carroll from going to the charity stripe with an opportunity to knot the score. The Hawks fell to 23-6, and must now wait until Sunday evening to find out whether the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee deems them worthy of an at-large bid. Dayton (23-5) will face Temple, which stunned Xavier in the other semifinal earlier, in the Atlantic 10 final Saturday night. Unlike its first-half performance against La Salle Thursday night, SJU played with poise and precision from the opening tip. But the Flyers did a far better job crashing the boards -- especially the offensive glass -- and the Hawks went to their locker room at the half down by seven. Dayton's Brooks Hall, held scoreless in the first half, hit a couple of quick treys as the second stanza got underway, and the Flyers zoomed out to a 55-36 lead with 15:59 left to play. Saint Joseph's countered with a trapping, full-court press that in one stretch held UD scoreless for more than three minutes of play. The Hawks also rejected eight shots and kept the crowd quiet for long stretches. During the 12-minute period in which the Hawks chipped away at the Flyers' lead, Nelson seemed to be everywhere, driving to the hoop, drawing fouls, and pulling up for jumpers. Delonte West, whose injured leg limited him to 12 minutes, provided a couple of tough dribble-drives, and Dwayne Jones and Tyrone Barley also added key baskets. But it was Nelson who put the Hawks on his back and carried them up the mountain. His 39 points were the third most in A-10 tourney history and set records for a semifinal game and scoring by a junior. It was the most points scored by a Hawk since Tony Costner netted 47 against Alaska-Anchorage in December 1983. Nelson also chipped in four boards and five assists before giving his fifth, and final, foul to stop the clock with 6.8 seconds to go. In a quiet Hawks locker room, Nelson, both knees sporting bags of ice, spoke softly. "I'd give up all the points and rebounds . . . for us to win," he said. Typically, Dayton spread the scoring around. Four Flyers scored in double digits, led by Ramod Marshall's 15 points and Hall's 14. Following Nelson in the Hawks' scoring column was Carroll -- with seven. The Flyers outrebounded SJU by 13 boards on the offensive glass. The squads were even in the defensive rebounding column. --Tom Durso/Saint Joseph's University Communications