PHILADELPHIA (1/14/01) ? Junior Marvin O'Connor scored 20 points and senior Na'im Crenshaw came off the bench to hit for 16 to lead St. Joseph's to an impressive, 84-71 win over the visiting Dayton Flyers. But all anyone was talking about afterwards was "the little kid", as head coach Phil Martelli affectionately referred to his stellar freshman point guard, Jameer Nelson. Listed as questionable prior to the game due to an ankle sprain suffered at George Washington on Wednesday night, Nelson not only started, but he directed the Hawk offense all night,tying his career high with 10 assists while scoring 10 points. It was his second double-double on the season. "He told me Thursday, 'I will play', stated Martelli on Nelson's status. "Now that was with one crutch in a hand. He started questionable. On Friday, he was doubtful. Yesterday it was probable at about 80-85 percent. I told Billy Luke (Lukasiewicz, team trainer) if it was 80-85 percent I would take it, and if that were 80-85 percent I would take it again." Nelson clearly looked much better than 85 percent as he handled a heavy dose of Flyer pressure, full court mainly. He cut and weaved his way by Dayton defenders, then found open Hawks for wide open jumpers. He also managed to create havoc on the defensive end, tying his career high with five steals. "We knew they were going to throw a couple of presses at us and I think we did well breaking the presses," stated Nelson."I would say I am about 90 percent, which is good, better than it was. Actually (that night) I thought it was broken (ankle), and Billy Luke thought it was fractured. I have to give him credit for getting me ready for this game." Dayton (10-6, 1-2 A-10) jumped out to a quick 11-4 lead by the first media timeout as crafty point guard David Morris tallied five points and had one of the two steals created by the Flyers press. SJU then went on an 11-4 run of its own to knot the game at 15 with just over 13 minutes remaining in the half. O'Connor, the Atlantic 10's co-Player of the Week, had only a bucket in the flurry, but was the main factor as he dished three assists in the stretch. "There were a lot of transition buckets early that caused the game to go really fast, but that is pretty much how we want to play anyway so it was to our advantage," stated the Hawk guard who has tallied 20 or more points in four of the last five games to up his average to 21.0 ppg. The Flyers took a four point lead later, 24-20, on a three-pointer by Brooks Hall (10 pts), but then went cold, missing eight shots while the Hawks went on an 11-0 run to take a 31-24 lead with 6:41 remaining. Ironically the run came with Nelson on the bench and his counterpart, freshman Tyrone Barley, drilled the three-pointer to end the run for SJU. Dayton cut it to one, 33-32, before St. Joe's ended the half on a 7-0 run to take a 40-32 lead into the locker room. The Flyers started the second half with a 16-4 run over the first seven minutes to take a brief 48-46 lead. Nelson then made a nice feed iin the lane for an Alexandre Sazonov dunk, then stole the ball at halfcourt and drove past two Flyers for the basket that put SJU back ahead to stay, 50-48. "There was no hanging of heads," stated Martelli on how his players handled the Dayton runs. Dayton, which placed four players in double figures led by preseason first team all-conference guard Tony Stanley (18), hung around for a few more possessions before a 16-4 Hawk run pushed the margin to 14, 69-55, with just 6:02 remaining. The closest it would get the remainder of the way would be 11. Besides the splendid play of the Hawk perimeter players, the frontcourt was solid for SJU. Damian Reid tallied 10 points despite being saddled with foul problems. Sazonov was superb in his stead, scoring nine points to go along with his four rebounds and two blocks. And Bill Phillips put up his fine overall numbers, nine points, 10 rebounds and a career-high six assists. Speaking of assists, which many did following the game, the Hawks have been assist happy this year. Perhaps the most unselfish team in college basketball, SJU leads the A-10 with a 17.2 average. That is well above the pace needed to break the school record average of 15.7 apg. set during the 1982-83 season. "Any time you have 23 assists on 28 field goals, 15-of 16 in the first half, it is just good basketball," added Martelli. Lukasiewicz, the SJU men's basketball trainer, may have been the game's MVP for getting Nelson back into the lineup so quickly. But his work is far from done as Frank Wilkins, who was able to start, could play 10 minutes due to his ailing back. "You always want to get off to a good start hopefully the momentum will carry over (on 4-0 league start)," O'Connor remarked. The Hawks (13-3), winners of seven in a row and 4-0 in A-10 play for the first time in program history, will need that momentum as they square off on Tuesday night in a showdown of 4-0 A-10 teams at the Liacouras Center with the Temple Owls (8:00 PM).
RELATED