7:00 PM ET, January 6, 2004
Robins Center, Richmond, Virginia
RICHMOND, Va. (AP) -- St. Joseph's Jameer Nelson had a nearly 20-point average heading into Atlantic 10 play, but he wasn't at all satisfied.Nor was Hawks coach Phil Martelli, who counts his 5-foot-11 point guard as the best player in college basketball and wanted him to show it. Nelson did that Tuesday night, scoring 18 of his 32 points in the first half and leading the No. 9 Hawks to a 71-60 victory against Richmond, extending St. Joseph's best start in school history to 12-0. With conference play set to begin, "Coach pulled me aside and said it's time to get going" and to shake his tendency to start slowly in games, Nelson said. "I had to agree with him. I was stinking up the gym." In their A-10 opener, Nelson had 29 points as the Hawks beat George Washington 90-81. This time, he nearly matched the Spiders point-for-point with 18 over the first 13:14 as the Hawks built a 35-21 lead, then added personal six- and five-point runs to stem rallies in the second half. Martelli said what Nelson did was nothing new. "I think a lot of times, seeing has to be believing with Jameer," he said, noting Nelson's ability to see the situation and make the play his team needs most, whether it's a shot, a pass or a stop on defense. "It's why he's the best player in college basketball," Martelli said. "No one dominates the game of basketball from the neck up like he does." St. Joseph's, also 2-0 in the Atlantic 10, began the night as one of 10 unbeaten teams in the nation and stayed that way by making the Spiders dizzy with quickness and a dazzling performance from its point guard. Nelson finished 9-for-14 with five 3-pointers. "I don't see myself as the best player, but I see myself as trying to become the best player by leading my team," Nelson said. "That's the No. 1 thing I want to do. I'm not in it for anything individually." Dwayne Jones added 10 points, 15 rebounds and three blocks for the Hawks, and Pat Carroll and Delonte West scored 13 points each. Richmond (8-6, 1-1), seeking its fourth straight victory, closed a 22-point deficit to 64-56 with 2:32 left. But Nelson made 5 of 6 free throws on the Hawks' next three possessions to close out the victory. "There's two kind of holes," Richmond coach Jerry Wainwright said. "There's some that you can see out of and there's others that you can't. "If you dig yourself a hole against a good team where you can't see out of it, it's pretty tough to come back. We obviously did that." Tony Dobbins led Richmond with 17 points, and Gaston Moliva had 15. The Spiders had six turnovers that became 14 points for the Hawks in the game's first eight minutes, uncharacteristic sloppiness for the home team that fueled the Hawks' early 18-7 run and set the tone for the night. Still, the Hawks led just 21-15 until Nelson heated up. He hit a 15-footer and a 3-pointer before Carroll's 3-pointer, then added two more 3-pointers to feed a 19-6 burst. Richmond went 6:01 without a point. "He played great, but we allowed him to affect our psyche almost," Wainwright said of Nelson, who hit several shots from 22 feet or more. When Moliva finally broke the drought with a layup 1:49 before halftime, St. Joseph's led 40-23 and any thoughts that the Spiders' tendency for big upsets would surface again had already been eliminated. The end essentially came early in the second half, after the Spiders pulled to 45-32. Tyrone Barley hit a 3-pointer for the Hawks and Nelson followed with two free throws, a layup and two more free throws. The 9-0 run gave the Hawks a 54-32 lead with 12:13 left.
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