It was supposed to be a Holy War between Villanova and St. Joseph’s, the two most bitter rivals in the Philadelphia Big 5.
St. Joseph’s surged to an early 27-8 first half lead, then withstood a second-half rally by Villanova to run its record to 19-0 _ the best start in school history _ before a sellout crowd of 6,500 at the Pavilion.
Jameer Nelson, arguably the best point guard in the country, scored 23 points for the Hawks. Junior guard Delonte West had 21 while junior forward Pat Carroll added 16 for St. Joseph’s, which had lost by 29 the last time it played on the Main Line.
“The mental makeup of our team is astounding,” St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “That was as raucous an atmosphere as we’ve ever been in, but our players never lost their composure. We didn’t play particularly well. But we played tough. I’m tired of all this rhetoric about, ‘Who did you play?’ We’ve beaten everybody we’ve played.”
This Big 5 game originally was scheduled to be held at the 21,000-seat Wachovia Center and probably would have sold out there with the buzz the Hawks have generated in Philadelphia this season. But the teams wanted to be part of ESPN’s “Rivals Week,” and a scheduling conflict with the NHL’s Flyers forced a change of venue to Villanova’s campus arena.
This was a far more competitive game than last year, when St. Joseph’s raced to a 40-9 halftime lead at the Palestra and then cruised to a 92-75 victory. Freshman guard Mike Nardi scored 16 points and sophomore guard Allan Ray added 13 for the young Wildcats (12-8, 3-1), who grew up a lot in the second half, turning around a crisis to get within 54-50 with 6:48 left. But St. Joseph’s always seemed to have an answer.
It was Carroll, the 6-5 younger brother of former Notre Dame star Matt Carroll, who answered the Hawks’ prayers. Carroll, who shot 6-for-8 and made all four three-pointers he attempted, drained a pair of criticial threes on St. Joseph’s next two possessions to push the lead back to 60-52.
Villanova coach Jay Wright tried to be philosophical.
“I think we played tough,” he said. “We just got beat by a better team. We weren’t bad, they were just better. It was a matter of discipline and execution. They’re very good at that.”
Posted to the web by: Cecelia Francisco