SJU WINS FIFTH STRAIGHT, DOWNS ST. BONNIES, 78-76
Courtesy: SJU Athletic Communications
OLEAN, NY (2-10-01) -- Heading into the season, St. Joseph's head coach Phil Martelli said that it would be road wins that separated the teams in a balanced Atlantic 10 Conference. Well, little did he know how true his prophecy would be, as his Hawks posted their fourth A-10 road win of the season, in front of a standing room only crowd at the hostile Reilly Center, defeating St. Bonaventure, 78-76. "You win on the road, in this setting, it is a nice ride back to Buffalo to be honest with you," stated Martelli. Junior Marvin O'Connor led the way for SJU, scoring a game-high 22 points, including the 1,000th of his collegiate career. Fellow junior Bill Phillips tossed in 21 points, hitting three-of-four three-pointers. But again it was the "little kid", freshman Jameer Nelson, who put the finishing touches on the win, hitting two free throws with 5.4 seconds to play, that provided the final margin. "It was crazy," stated Phillips on the atmosphere. "I figured once we got up seven by the end of the half that we had taken their big punch and that things were going to calm down a little bit. But they came back, and it was hectic. These are the type of games you just want to get out of the gym with a win, no matter how you get it done." The win was Martelli's 100th of his collegiate career, only the fifth SJU coach to reach that plateau. It could not have come at a better time for his team, as it was the fifth straight, 19th overall, and most likely will propel the Hawks into the Top 25 for the first time since the end of the 1996-97 season when the team ended up ranked 12th in the final Associated Press poll. "I think that all the wins are hard to come by, the teams that we have played," remarked the Hawk coach on his milestone win. "It is a nice accomplishment. It means that we have been successful in doing that we have been doing 100 of the times I have coached." SJU, which has all sorts of problems getting to Olean, NY yesterday, started the game off sluggishly. The Hawks were charged with an incredible five offensive fouls in the first seven minutes of the contest (nine total for the game), and fell behind, 21-12 by the mid-point of the first half. With Nelson on the bench (two fouls), the team regrouped under the direction of freshman point guard Tyrone Barley, and went on a 15-0 run that was fueled by O'Connor (8 points) and Na'im Crenshaw (four points) to take a 34-26 lead with 2:30 remaining. The team then closed out the half with a seven-point lead, 38-31. "I thought that the thing that turned it, was in the first half, when they got away from us, Tyrone Barley came in and kid of changed the tempo that we had going," stated Martelli. "We got a little more aggressive, more on our toes and less on our heels." The Bonnies (14-8, 5-5) charged out of the gates in the second half, cutting the lead to one, 39-38, just two minutes in. J.R. Bremer (16 points), who lit up the Hawks with 30 points in the first game, nailed one of his three long-range 3-pointers to knot the game. It was not until Kevin Houston nailed two free throws following a technical foul on Crenshaw with 12:47 to play that the Bonnies regained the lead, 51-48. It was the first of 10 lead changes in the period. SBU also started working the ball inside in the final 20 minutes, as senior forward Peter Van Paassen, playing for the first time since injuring his ankle on Hawk Hill a week ago, scored all 22 of his points in the period after looking ineffective in the first half. He so frustrated Hawk center Damian Reid, that the SJU big man picked up his fifth foul on a technical following a personal on Van Paassen with 9:08 remaining. Alexandre Sazonov , who also had difficulty stopping the Bonnie post player, stepped in and played well overall, tallying five points and six rebounds. Most importantly, Sazonov swatted away three shots, including Kevin Houston's runner in the lane with 1:20 seconds to play and the Hawks down 74-72. O'Connor, a strong candidate for A-10 Player of the Year honors, drained a three-pointer with 1:15 to play to put SJU ahead 75-74. Crenshaw then grabbed a rebound off a VanPaassen miss on the next possession and smartly signaled timeout during a scramble on the floor. Nelson was then fouled, and was able to connect on just one of two free throws to give the Hawks a 76-74 lead. A Van Paassen hook with 22 seconds to play tied the game. And like the last two games, Nelson, the freshman in name only, was given the ball in crunch time. He was fouled driving to the hoop by Bremer with 5.4 seconds, and the Hawks' top free throw shooter, calmly connected on both free throws as the overflow crowd screamed at a high decibel pitch. "You just have to go up and shoot with confidence," said Nelson on his game-winning free throws. "You have to do your best to block out your fans." It was Bremer, the Bonnies' top gun of late, taking the ball up the court for the final shot, but O'Connor and Nelson ran out at the SBU guard preventing him from squaring up on his 30-foot attempt to win the game. "I thought that beng that we got in late and we had to get up early to shoot around,we would be tired, a little sluggish," stated O'Connor on the team's travel woes that had them tied up for over eight hours yesterday trying to get to Buffalo. "But with the nature level of this team we are confident of getting the job done." So the Hawks head home from Buffalo alone atop the A-10 with a 9-1 league mark, 19-4 overall, and will await the pollsters vote on Monday. And of course, their nemesis, Temple, which will be looking to knock them off their perch on Tuesday night on ESPN2 (9:30 PM). week.