PHILLIPS' FREE THROWS HOLD OFF RUTGERS IN THE END
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications
Piscataway, NJ - Two teams off to great starts. Two players with hot hands. Something had to give, and it did. Both players - St. Joseph's Marvin O'Connor and Rutgers' Todd Billet - cooled off, but the Hawks did not as they used two free throws from Bill Phillips with 8.8 seconds to play to pull out a 67-65 win in front of 4,447 fans at the Louis Brown Athletic Center. Phillips, who posted his third double-double of the season (10 points), was fouled after pulling down his career-high 13th rebound off a miss by Erick Woods. The 6-10 center calmly hit both free throws to give SJU the lead. Billet, who entered the game with a 22.6 scoring average, missed a three-pointer with two seconds to play and freshman Tyrone Barley swatted the rebound to half court to end the contest. "When the foul trouble started in the second half I was concerned," stated Hawk coach Phil Martelli. "But we made some big plays, Marvin and Jameer (Nelson) hit some huge threes, and that last minute we played terrific defense." "That last play Tyrone Barley made a great play to knock that ball away." O'Connor, the A-10's leading scorer, struggled all night offensively, but his defense and passing was superb. He finished with nine points on 4-of-15 shooting (1-7 from 3-point range), but he limited Billet to just 11 points and dished a season-high five assists. "Marvin has been listed as a one-dimensional player, but he really guarded tonight," commented Martelli. "Last year he would have dropped his head, but this year he lifts his head and moves forward." With O'Connor off the mark, the Hawks relied on the inside-outside combo of Nelson and Damian Reid for offense. Nelson provided big play after big play, tallying a career-high 20 points while dishing five assists. Reid, who was a force inside defensively as well, scored a season-high 16 for the second straight night while adding eight rebounds. After a tightly-contested 30-plus minutes, the Hawks appeared to have broken away from the Scarlet Knights, taking their biggest lead, 64-55, on a Nelson layup, with 3:29 to play. Rutgers, aided by an intentional foul called on O'Connor on a Jeff Greer driving layup with 1:59 left, then went on a 10-1 run to tie the contest at 65 on a Renardo Brown 3-pointer with 1:22 to play. O'Connor then missed a trey on the next possession, but solid SJU defense and a key Reid rebound gave the Hawks the ball with 38 seconds to play. That set up Phillips' last minute heroics. The Hawks, now off to their best start (5-1) since 1981-82, travel to the Palestra for a "road" game against Drexel on Saturday (Dec. 7). They then host arch-rival Villanova in the same building on Monday, December 9. Rutgers, led by Greer's game-high 21, drops their first game of the season, falling to 5-1 on the year. The Scarlet Knight were trying to go 6-0 for the first time since their Final Four season (1975-76).