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Xavier hands No. 1 Saint Joseph's first loss

| Friday, March 12, 2004

DAYTON, Ohio -- With time winding down in what was to become one of the most surprising upsets in the nation this season, the Saint Joseph's star backcourt tandem of Jameer Nelson and Delonte West sat slumped on the bench.

Their body language spoke volumes for their sluggish play during the top-ranked Hawks' crushing 87-67 loss to Xavier on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament at the University of Dayton Arena.

Nelson, the leading candidate for national player of the year, and West, who shot 12 for 12 with 33 points in the team's earlier meeting -- an 81-73 Saint Joseph's victory -- combined to shoot just 11 for 35 yesterday.

"We tried to make it tough for Jameer and West. The last time we played them, they made everything." said Xavier guard Romain Sato, who led the Musketeers with 24 points and 11 rebounds.

Xavier's defense attacked the Saint Joseph's duo on every possession, forcing Nelson and West to rush most of their shots.

"We couldn't have played any better than we did today, and fortunately it came at a good time," Xavier coach Thad Matta said.

Xavier (21-10), which shot an A-10 Tournament-record 71.1 percent (32 for 45) and pummeled Saint Joseph's on the boards 43-18, almost surely cemented its chances of receiving an NCAA Tournament bid, even if it doesn't win the A-10 tournament title. The Musketeers will face George Washington in the semifinals tonight.

"Any loss is devastating, especially when you work so hard," Nelson said. "We take pride in our defense and we let ourselves down with our defense today."

Saint Joseph's (27-1), which took over the No. 1 spot for the first time this week, was the last of the nation's unbeaten teams coming into the game. The Hawks, who were off for nine days following their regular-season finale March 2 and had a first-round bye in the A-10 Tournament, trailed 43-21 at halftime.

Saint Joseph's coach Phil Martelli did not waver, when asked about the effect the loss might have on his team's anticipated No. 1 seeding in the NCAA Tournament.

"This was our 20th game away from our own fieldhouse. We're 19-1 in those games," he said. "The committee will understand that. The committee will do us right because of our body of work, not 40 minutes."

It got worse for the Hawks in the second half as Xavier poured it on and led by as many as 37 points with eight minutes remaining.

"We're pretty good. We've come a long way since early on. Right now, we're clearly one of the hottest teams in the country," said Xavier guard Lionel Chalmers, who scored 23 points.

Anthony Myles added 19 points and nine rebounds for Xavier. Nelson and West scored 16 apiece for Saint Joseph's. Tyrone Barley had 11 and Pat Carroll 10.

It marked the worst loss by a No. 1 team against an unranked team. Xavier, whose only loss in the past 12 games is a four-point home setback to Duquesne, made Saint Joseph's its puppet from start to finish.

It was just too easy.

Said Martelli: "We got here together and we'll leave here together, taking this loss like men."

RANKING THE WORST


No. 1 Saint Joseph's 87-67 loss to Xavier on Thursday marked the largest margin of defeat in NCAA Division I by a top-ranked team to an unranked team. A look at the top four all time:

Margin - Result - Year

  • 20 Xavier 87, Saint Joseph's 67 2004
  • 19 Villanova 93, Syracuse 74 1990
  • 19 Wisconsin 86, Ohio State 67 1962
  • 18 Maryland 69, North Carolina 51 1959

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