St. Joe's falls - with a smack

No. 1 Hawks' 27-0 run halted by Xavier, 87-67

Top spot proves too slippery

Musketeers shoot .711, lead by 37 at one point

March 12, 2004|By Joe Gergen | Joe Gergen,NEWSDAY

DAYTON, Ohio - For Xavier coach Thad Matta, the realization came early. On Saint Joseph's first possession, Delonte West got the ball 15 feet from the basket, squared his shoulders and launched a jump shot that hit the front rim. Hard.

Matta did a double-take. In the teams' previous meeting two months ago, West made all 12 of his field-goal attempts, including three from three-point range, and all six free throws en route to a 33-point performance. Twenty-two seconds into the rematch, in a quarterfinal game of the Atlantic 10 tournament, the standout junior was 0-for-1.

"Until Delonte missed that first baseline jumper," Matta said, "I thought he was superhuman."

The Hawks, the last undefeated Division I college basketball team at the start of the day, were all too human yesterday. They shot poorly, defended sluggishly and watched their perfect season get shattered by the Musketeers. The final score of 87-67 barely hinted at the totality of the defeat.

In their first game since being anointed the No. 1 team in the country, the Hawks (27-1) trailed by 22 points at halftime and fell behind by as many as 37 (74-37) in the second half before their full-court pressure closed the deficit.

Against a team renowned for its defense, Xavier penetrated at will and shot 65.4 percent in the first half and 78.9 percent in the second half.

"The better team won today," Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli said. "We got our butts kicked."

West hit only four of 14 shots, including 2-for-7 from beyond the arc, in recording 16 points. That equaled the total of the Hawks' Jameer Nelson, a candidate for national Player of the Year who was 7-for-21 from the field, including 1-for-8 on three-point attempts, and was charged with five turnovers.

"That's going to happen," Nelson said. "The offense is going to miss shots. But what it boils down to is that we didn't play defense."

He glanced at the box score, which credited Xavier with shooting 71.1 percent for the game. "I hate looking at that," the point guard said. "Seventy percent is unheard of, in any sport."

Saint Joseph's was the first No. 1 team to play at Dayton Arena since DePaul's appearance in the 1981 NCAA tournament. On that occasion, the Blue Demons were upset by none other than Saint Joseph's, 49-48. Six years earlier, Indiana carried a perfect record into a regional final here and lost to Kentucky, 92-90.

The thrashing yesterday not only cost the Hawks a chance for the conference title they had set as one of their goals last fall, but it also might threaten their grip on a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Conversely, the victory should bolster the arguments in favor of Xavier (21-10), which was considered a bubble team despite a 10-1 record in its previous 11 games.

"I hope this will get us in the tournament," Matta said. "I believe we are one of the best 64 teams in the country."

Yesterday, the Musketeers were Top 10 material. They overwhelmed Saint Joseph's inside (43 rebounds to 18; 46 points in the paint to 20). Plus, the all-senior backcourt of Lionel Chalmers and Romain Sato nullified and dominated Nelson and West.

Chalmers and Sato shot a combined 10-for-14 (compared with 4-for-16 for the Saint Joseph's pair) and had one turnover between them in the first half, when Xavier opened a 43-21 lead.

"We knew if we played hard, executed the way we could and defended the way we could, we could beat them," Chalmers said. "Not by 30 points. No way. But right now, we're clearly one of the hottest teams in the country. They're still a great team. They made history with what they did."

Newsday is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

The bigger they are, the harder they fall

Largest losses by a top-ranked team against an unranked opponent:

Winner Loser Date Site

20 Xavier 87 St. Joe's 67 3/11/2004 Dayton, Ohio-x

19 Villanova 93 Syracuse 74 1/6/1990 Syracuse, N.Y.

19 Wisconsin 86 Ohio State 67 3/3/1962 Madison, Wis.

18 Maryland 69 N. Carolina 51 2/21/1959 College Park

16 Ga. Tech 77 UConn 61 11/26/2003 New York

16 Nebraska 67 Missouri 51 2/6/1982 Columbia, Mo.

16 Alabama 78 Kentucky 62 1/23/1978 Tuscaloosa, Ala.

15 California 85 UCLA 70 1/30/1994 Oakland, Calif.

15 L. Beach St. 64 Kansas 49 1/25/1993 Lawrence, Kan.

15 Vanderbilt 101 Kentucky 86 1/13/1993 Nashville, Tenn.

x- Atlantic-10 tournament

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