Rosemont, IL (12/17/00) - The only way to stop St. Joseph's junior guard Marvin O'Connor from scoring was to knock him out of the game. And that is exactly what DePaul did in the closing minutes of an 80-76 win at the Allstate Arena on Sunday afternoon. O'Connor, who finished with a team-high 21 points, was helped to the SJU bench with 4:27 to play after a collision with DePaul's Bobby Simmons. He did not return, and despite a courageous effort, SJU was unable to overcome the Blue Demons in the end. "We wanted to play a possession by possession game," stated Hawk coach Phil Martelli. "They have a spurtability to their game, and when they came out early they put it on us. They made some shots that if we had to play again for 40 minutes we would give them again." DePaul (5-4) showed its ability to score in bunches in the first half, running off six unanswered points on threes by Simmons (23 points) and Rashon Burno (19), to take an 18-7 lead with 11:24 to play in the first half. The Hawks looked unfocused in the early going, perhaps in part due to the scheduling of this game, which falls in the middle of exam week. Junior center Damian Reid did not arrive until near midnight due to an Saturday exam and a cancelled flight, and backup point guard Tyrone Barley had to stay behind to finish school work as well. Trailing 23-11 with just under 10 minutes to play in the half, the Hawks awoke, posting an 18-4 run over the next six minues to take a 29-27 lead. Jameer Nelson, matching up with heralded DePaul freshman point guard Imari Sawyer (7.7 apg entering the game), and O'Connor each drained "threes" in the run. The lead then went back and forth over the final three minutes with the Blue Demons holding a slim 36-34 advantage at intermission. Nelson, who matched his career high with 20, knew he was playing against one of "Dickie V's Diaper Dandys," but it did not phase him. "I knew that his name was 'bigger' than mine, " stated the Hawk point guard. "I just tried to play my game, not go one-on-one with him, or him come down one-on-one with me. I just tried to play as I can play." The Hawks again struggled a little at the start of the second stanza, falling behind by seven, 50-43, after four minutes. Back-to-back baskets by Damian Reid, who posted his second double-double (10 pts, 10 rebs) on the year, brought it back to a one possession game. After trading baskets the next four minutes, SJU finally tied it as Bill Phillips, who contributed his fourth double-double (14 pts, 12 rebs), hit one of two free throws to knot it at 60 with 7:04 left. With the score at 68-65 in the Blue Demons favor, O'Connor drove the lane and was met with an unmoveable object, the 250-pound Williams. The ball flew out of his hands and the A-10's leading scorer (22.5 ppg.) crashed to the floor. SJU trainer Bill Lukasiewicz attended to the woozy O'Connor and helped him to the sidelines. No foul was called and SJU would have to play without the services of O'Connor, who suffered a mild concussion on the play. "You do what you have to do," stated Martelli on playing without O'Connor. "To our players credit, there was never a wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights look. We got on to the business about trying to win the game." Two free throws by Sawyer boosted the DePaul lead to five (70-65) with 4:04 on the clock, but SJU had no quit in them. Frank Wilkins hit a running layup which was followed by a Phillips layup off a feed by Nelson (5 assists), cutting the score to 71-69 with 1:23 remaining. Simmons then made it 73-69 on two free throws, but a Nelson basket with 41 seconds left made it 73-71. Burno drilled two from the charity stripe and following a Phillips turnover, Sawyer made another to extend the margin to five (76-71). Nelson drove the lane for a layup, but that was followed by Simmons drilling two more FTs to make it 78-73 with just eight seconds left. When it seemed like all hope was lost, freshman Jeff Miller, filling in the rotation in place of Barley, drained a "three" to cut it to one, 78-76, with :06 on the scoreboard. Miller then hacked Williams, but it went uncalled and three precious seconds ticked off the clock before Erick Woods could foul Simmons. There would be no last second basket, no John Smith layup at the buzzer like the classic 49-48 upset of #1 DePaul in the 1981 NCAA Tournament, as Simmons would hit both free throws to put the game out of reach. "We do not take any solace, satisfaction, but with all that is going on, we are in the middle of exams and go back and take exams tomorrow, we were not as razor sharp as we would have liked, but it is a lesson learned." The Hawks, now 6-3 after two tough losses, will have to be fast learners as a hungry Western Kentucky team awaits a rematch on Thursday in Bowling Green. SJU downed the Hilltoppers, 81-55, last year, but this club is much-improved and has a win at Louisville to prove it.
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