RICHMOND, VA (02/13/02) - It was the Saint Joseph's season in a two-minute window. If this had been last season, you would have known the ending. But it's this season and you knew this ending too. It has played out five different times in five different venues. The ending has always been the same. The Hawks margin for error has now been reduced to nothing after last night's numbing 61-59 loss to Richmond at the Robins Center. This was d?j? vu in the worst way. It could have been Eastern Washington on opening night in Berkeley. Calif. Or Georgia State in Charlotte. Or Gonzaga at the Fieldhouse. Or Penn at the Palestra. Five times now, St. Joe's (15-8, 9-2 Atlantic 10) has been in white knucklers where it needed to make one shot to win or tie at the end. In the Penn game, the Hawks had nearly 10 chances. Last night, they had three. They have not made a single one of those shots. "That was as good as we've played defensively all year," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "But we have some warts...I've got to believe it's going to balance out. In a game like that everybody's got to make one play, including the coach. And then when you lose like that, everybody's made one play to cause it." There is the other part of this equation. Why exactly has the preseason No. 10 team found itself in all these nailbiters? Why are they in position to lose in the end? ``When we needed it last year, somebody did something,'' Marvin O'Connor said. ``We're still taking those shots, but they're not falling for us late...You don't even want to be in a situation like that.'' Richmond (14-10, 8-3) is a more athletic version of Princeton on offense. The Spiders just keep moving with and without the ball until you get dizzy or bored. After an early flurry of Richmond threes, St. Joe's really did control the Spiders offense. And, four minutes into the second half, the Hawks seemed ready to take control of the game. They led 44-37. They had the ball. Richmond was forcing up bad shots. Then Jameer Nelson, who was otherwise clearly the best player on the court, threw a mindless crosscourt pass to nobody. It was intercepted. The Spiders got a fastbreak layup. What should have been easy suddenly became difficult. The Hawks only scored points on three of their next 12 possessions. Richmond gradually worked its way back. Then, suddenly, the Spiders led 59-55 as the clock hit four minutes. It was a moment of truth. Nelson was the truth. He created a basket out of nothing. The Hawks made a passionate defensive stand. Nelson came out of the pack 1 on 2 and blew by both defenders for a tying layup with 2:57 left. The Hawks made another great defensive stand. Reggie Brown forced up a three that had no chance. O'Connor seemed to have the long rebound. Then, Richmond's John Collins came out of nowhere and threw the ball off O'Connor out of bounds. On the ensuing possession, Richmond's Mike Skrocki drove toward the basket. He threw up a tough shot. The Hawks' Na'im Crenshaw was whistled for his fifth foul. With 2:05 left, Skrocki calmly scored the game's last two points from the foul line. At the other end, O'Connor got a great look at a three from the corner. Last season, that shot swishes. This season, it bounced away. After shooting 5-for-8 in the first half, O'Connor (15 points) was 0-for-7 in the second. The Hawks again played great defense, forcing Brown to take a bad shot that had no chance. Freshman Delonte West, in for Crenshaw, took a very difficult shot from the baseline that never came close to the rim.Again, the Hawks defended brilliantly. Again, the Spiders missed. With one final chance, Nelson (21 points) had to take the shot. He got a good one from about 8 feet on the right side of the lane. It missed with maybe five seconds left. "That was a shot I was supposed to make," Nelson said. "It just missed. There's nothing you can do about it. You're going to make some, you're going to miss some." The Hawks' Bill Phillips got the rebound. Richmond, with a foul to give, really went after the ball. Brown stripped it away and then threw it down the court as time expired. "Jameer's shot was great," Martelli said. "Billy did exactly what you should do. He went to the offensive glass. I just wish he had gathered himself and gone up and shot rather than dribbled...You're not going to get that whistle although I do think that was a clean play." In a season of Murphy's Law for the Hawks, they still could not have imagined that Richmond's Scott Ungerer (6-for-28 from the arc in 10 A-10 games) would go 5-for-9 from the arc against them. But that's what happens when the results somehow seem pre-ordained. "Guys were more comfortable last year," Crenshaw said. "Guys are looking over their shoulder now. I don't know why." Really, nobody can explain that part of it. Now, it's become fairly obvious that the Hawks will have to win the A-10 Tournament to make the NCAA's. "I never thought we would be in this predicament," Hawks' center Damian Reid said. "But that's part of life. You've got to deal with what it gives you. If we are the team we think are, we should overcome this, go on from here, win the A-10 and make some noise in the tournament." Nelson wondered why teams were "sticking around with us." He also wondered if it wasn't time for some changes. Changing the endings would be a good place to start. Changing the rest of it is a much trickier dilemma.
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