CINCINNATI, OH (1/20/01) ? Blame it on the Sports Illustrated curse, the early start, or the hostile crowd in the brand new Cintas Center, but whatever the reason, the St. Joseph's Hawks came out cold to start yet another big Atlantic 10 Conference showdown, and did not catch fire until the game was out of hand. On the other hand, Xavier, the preseason league favorite, playing in its gorgeous new arena, looked ready to play. Riding a career-high tying 29 point effort by 6-8 junior forward Kevin Frey, and the inside play of 6-8 sophomore forward David West, the Musketeers posted a relatively easy 86-73 win over the A-10's only remaining undefeated team. "The concerns coming in were three-fold," stated SJU coach Phil Martelli. "One was the early punch. I knew everyone would be excited. We have gotten alot of notoriety this week - deservedly so. We thought they would try and take us out early, emotionally." "We did not want to be dominated by David West, and that half court defense was stifling. We came in 9th in the country in field goal percentage, we had some looks early, but they did a good job of guarding us. They had us on our heels," he added on the other two concerns. The Hawks, despite struggling with their shooting, survived the Musketeers first early punch, mainly due to Xavier's own shooting woes. So despite having just two points, a Bill Phillips layup, from their top three scorers, SJU trailed by just a basket, 18-16, with 7:17 to play. Then the X-men put on a patented run, tallying the next 10 points, keyed by two 3-pointers by Lionel Chalmers, to push the margin to 28-16 at the 3:40 mark. The teams traded baskets the rest period with Xavier taking a 35-23 lead into the lockerroom. The Hawks trio of Phillips, Marvin O'Connor and Jameer Nelson combined for 2-14 shooting from the field and just four points over the first 20 minutes. Thankfully, Na'im Crenshaw, who has provided instant offense off the bench since his return, and Damian Reid, who was strong on both ends, went 5-10 for 11 of SJU's 23 points, a season-low total for the first half. The second half started off worst than the first, as both Reid and Phillips picked up their third fouls in the opening minute of play. The Hawks then trunovers on their first three possessions helped the Musketeers to start a 13-5 run to extend the margin to twenty points, 48-28, by the first media timeout (15:40). To their credit, the Hawks never gave up, rallying to cut the lead to 11 by the midpoint of the stanza, and nine twice late in the contest. But Xavier hit their free throws, 36 to be exact (of 47 attempts), down the stretch, and West picked his game up, posting a double-double (18 pts., 12 rebounds) to hold the Hawks off. "It is the first time Jameer has struggled," said Martelli on his stellar freshman point guard. "I do not know if he was able to pull himself and fight through it." Nelson, who came in averaging 12.5 points on 48 percent shooting, missed his first 10 shots before connecting on a layup with 32 seconds remaining. He did, however, dish a career high 12 assists, the most since Rap Curry recorded 12 against West Virginia on January 22, 1994. "At this level, and against this defense, we were not as crisp as we need to be," added Martelli. "It was a good learning experience for us." Reid led SJU with 14 points and 12 rebounds, his third double-double of the year, but first since the DePaul game (12/17). O'Connor ended up with 13, on 5-17 shooting, while Crenshaw, who left the game after knocking knees with XU's Maurice McAfee (14 pts.) at the 9:15 mark, also finished with 13. Also for SJU, Alexandre Sazonov (9 PTS) played strong, hitting all four of his shots, while Erick Woods (9 PTS) came off the bench to hit three 3-pointers. SJU, 14-4, 5-1 in A-10, did get some national attention prior to the game. The team was joined on Friday by SI's Seth Davis, who is writing a piece on the Hawks for next week's magazine. It is a shame that both he, and The Sporting News' Mike DeCourcey, did not get to view SJU at its best. Xavier, which tied SJU for first place in the conference (5-1), is now 14-3 overall. The Musketeers travel to the Fieldhouse for the rematch on February 7. Next up for the Hawks is a home game against Rhode Island on Wednesday night (7:00 PM).
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