St. Joe's holds off Wake

Led by Nelson and West, top-seeded Hawks reach Elite Eight with 84-80 win

St. Joe's to face Oklahoma State

Hawks improve to 30-1, will try to gain Final Four for first time since 1961

Ncaa Tournament

March 26, 2004|By Don Markus | Don Markus,SUN STAFF

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. - The little team that could, did. Again.

Top-seeded but much-maligned Saint Joseph's continued to silence its critics, including one sitting courtside at Continental Airlines Arena for last night's NCAA tournament Sweet 16 game against No. 4 seed Wake Forest.

With senior All-America point guard Jameer Nelson and junior shooting guard Delonte West each scoring 24 points, the Hawks pulled away from the Demon Deacons in the second half and then hung on to win, 84-80, before a sellout crowd of 19,557 and Wake Forest alum Billy Packer, who was cheered derisively at the end of the game.

The victory put Saint Joseph's (30-1) into tomorrow's East Rutherford Regional final against second-seeded Oklahoma State, which earlier in the night beat No. 3 seed Pittsburgh, 63-51.

It will mark the first time since 1981 that the Hawks reached the Elite Eight, with a chance to go their first Final Four since 1961. The defeat ended the season for Wake Forest (21-10), but not before the Demon Deacons gave Saint Joseph's a bit of a scare.

Trailing 70-59 with 5:52 left in the game, Wake Forest cut its deficit to five (72-67) on a power drive by Eric Williams with 4:12 left. After a missed shot by Nelson, the senior guard picked up his fourth personal with 3:47, and Justin Gray hit one of two free throws to trim the deficit to five 73-68.

After a television timeout, West missed an open three-pointer against Wake Forest's zone. Sophomore center Dwayne Jones, playing much of the second half with four fouls, got the offensive rebound, was fouled and hit the second of two free throws. A three-point try by Gray hit the front rim, and two tips missed before Jones got the rebound.

The Demon Deacons got another chance when the Hawks couldn't get off a shot - or at least one to hit the rim - before the 35-second clock expired. This time, Gray's three-point try from the left wing rimmed out, and junior guard Pat Carroll, who scored 17, made a three-pointer from the right side to extend the Hawks' lead to 76-68 with 1:42 to go.

Paul, who finished with just 12 points after scoring 29 in the second round, made a pair of free throws with 1:14 to go. West was fouled, and made both free throws with 1:06 left. A runner by Paul cut it to 79-74 and, following a turnover by the Hawks in their own backcourt, Gray (23 points) made a wide-open three with 43.6 seconds to play.

Nelson then beat Paul to the basket, but his shot missed badly. Freshman Chet Stachitas was there to tip it in. Paul was then fouled going to the basket, but he missed the first free throw before making the second to close the gap to 81-78. Nelson was able to get the inbounds pass, split a double team and get fouled.

After a timeout, he was fouled again, this time getting two shots. He missed the first with 20.2 seconds to go, and made the second. Gray scored on a drive with 11.9 seconds left.

Nelson narrowly got the ball to West out of a double team, and he was fouled with 6.4 seconds left. West made both free throws to seal the game.

Despite both of their big men being in foul trouble early in the second half - junior forward John Bryant picked up his third and fourth fouls, as did Jones - the Hawks were able to distance themselves from the Demon Deacons with their perimeter game before Wake Forest stormed back late in the game.

A jumper in the lane by West started a 9-4 run by the Hawks that pushed their lead to 62-55 with 8:44 to go. After an offensive foul called against Wake Forest's Vytas Danelius, Saint Joseph's had a chance to extend their lead further, but Nelson lost the ball and fouled Paul, who made both ends of a one-and-one.

The lead was back to eight when Pat Carroll made a three-pointer from the corner, and after a steal underneath by Nelson, it was 11 when Tyrone Barley, whose biggest contribution was harassing Paul for much of the night, made another three-pointer to make it 68-57 with 6:34 remaining.

The Demon Deacons got off to the quick start last night, twice taking nine-point leads in the first seven minutes. Trailing 17-8, the Hawks hit three straight threes in a 15-4 run that eventually pushed them into the lead, 23-21, on a layup by West with 9:07 to go in the opening half.

Unlike the first game last night, this one was played at a high energy level throughout. Players actually hit a high percentage of shots, with Wake Forest making 15 of the 28 it attempted before halftime (four of seven on threes) and Saint Joseph's hitting 15 of 31 (six of 13 by halftime).

Nelson and West each scored 11 points in the opening half for the Hawks. The Demon Deacons were a little more balanced. Gray led Wake Forest with 12 points, while Levy had nine and Eric Williams scored six. Paul was quiet, scoring just three and taking only four shots. Still, the Demon Deacons led 38-37.

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