CINCINNATI, OH (02/16/02) - They call them "free" throws, but Saint Joseph's could not buy a single one in the second half of an 84-77 loss at Xavier. The Hawks missed all eight of their attempts from the line in the final 20 minutes, and 15 of 22 in all as SJU's last chance for a win over a Top 25 RPI team fell by the wayside. "One of our achilles heels has been foul shooting," stated SJU head coach Phil Martelli. "and it got us, it is as simple as that. We make our free throws, we win the game." Xavier All-American candidate David West took advantage of his opportunities from the charity stripe, hitting 14 straight before his final one bounced out. But, the way the ball has been bouncing all season for the Hawks, of course it fell into the hands of sophomore Romain Sato for a putback that pushed the Musketeer lead to 82-77 with 10 seconds to play. Effectively sealing the game for Xavier, 19-4, 11-1 in the A-10. West, the junior center, banged his way to a game-high 24 points while blocking six shots. Sato, who may well be the Player of the Year in the A-10, tallied 22 points on 8-of-14 shooting, 4-of-7 from three-point range. He also grabbed a game-high 11 rebounds and tied for team honors with three assists. Jameer Nelson led the Hawks in scoring for the third time in the past four games. He seemed to have his way against junior guard Lionel Chalmers (16 points), penetrating and either taking it to the hole or dishing to an open man. Nelson tallied 17 of his team high 22 points in the first half to lead SJU to a 48-40 lead. The Hawks shot 17-of-28 from the field in the opening stanza (60.7%), but would then turn cold in the second half, hitting just 13-of-35 (37.1%). "They did not have much of an answer for him (Nelson), just some of our shots did not go in." explained Martelli on the difference between the halves. "We just did not finish plays." Nelson hit just 2-of-10 from the field in the final 20 minutes, and dished three of his game high eight assists in the frame. He also pulled down eight rebounds for a near triple-double. Trailing 60-53, the Musketeers took over the contest on the strength of a 14-2 run, to take a 67-62 lead with 8:45 to play. The teams traded baskets until the two minute when Xavier went on a 5-0 run, four of those points coming off West free throws, to post its biggest lead of the night, 77-70, with 1:01 left. The Hawks, however, were not about to give up. First, Bill Phillips (14 points, 7 rebounds) nailed a three-pointer and then, following two Dave Young misses from the line, Delonte West laid in a Hawk miss to cut the margin to two, 77-75, with 27 seconds on the clock. Chalmers then tried to give the game back to the Hawks by missing two free throws on the next possession, but Delonte West could not control the rebound and SJU had to foul David West, the only player on both teams seemingly capable of hitting free throws. The Xavier center nailed the both to push the lead back to four, 79-75. Nelson then drove the lane and dished to West to cut the deficit back to two with just 13 seconds remaining. Xavier got the ball back into David West's hands, and he hit the first free throw to make it 80-77, but missed the second only to have Sato follow it up, making it an 82-77 lead and ending the suspense. "This is the hardest we played in a while," stated senior Na'im Crenshaw, who tallied 18 points on 7of-12 shooting (4-7 from 3PT), "We had our fire, just the ball did not bounce our way at the end." Now SJU, 15-9, 9-3, must look to use its remaining four regular season games to build itself up for the all important Atlantic 10 Tournament. Next up is a home date against Massacusetts on Tuesday (9:30 PM/ESPN2/WPEN 950 AM).
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