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NCAA MEN'S BASKETBALL TOURNAMENT

Wake Is Sent Packing by St. Joseph's

Martelli and Hawks get the last word in feud with Packer, beating the CBS announcer's alma mater, 84-80, to reach the Elite Eight.

March 26, 2004|Chris Dufresne | Times Staff Writer

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- The chorus started with 51.2 seconds left.

"Billy Packer, Billy Packer," Saint Joseph's fans chanted at the CBS announcer, seated courtside at Continental Airlines Arena.

Saint Joe's had a seven-point lead on Wake Forest.

Packer alienated legends of fair-feathered Hawk fans when he said Saint Joseph's did not deserve a No. 1 seeding in this NCAA tournament.

Let the celebration begin.

Revenge is sweet.

Game over?

Well, gulp, not quite.

Wake Forest staged a furious last-minute rally, cut the lead to two points with 11.9 seconds left and nearly pulled it out for Packer's alma mater.

In the end, it took two free throws by Delonte West with six seconds left for Saint Joe's to secure an 84-80 victory in front of a crowd of 19,557.

With the victory, Saint Joe's improved to 30-1 and earned a Saturday date against Oklahoma State in the East Rutherford Regional final.

When victory was finally secured, Hawk fans tore into Packer again.

After Packer wrapped up his no chit-chat, postgame interview with Saint Joe's Coach Phil Martelli, several Hawk fans playfully taunted Packer.

"Enjoy the game, Billy?" one jabbed.

"I enjoyed it," Packer said.

All Packer could do was put his notes into a plastic sack, unhook his microphone and pack it in.

Despite the doubters and second-guessers, Saint Joe's marches on.

The Hawks are an undersized team, dominated by guards Jameer Nelson and West. Thursday night, two of their "big" men, John Bryant and Dwayne Jones, were saddled with four fouls.

Yet, the Hawks did what they do best ... they shot. Early and often.

Saint Joe's made 12 of 24 three-point attempts against a Wake Forest team that doesn't particularly excel on the defensive end.

"They probably did to us what they did to 29 other teams, they just shot the three very well," Wake Forest Coach Skip Prosser said. "You don't have to be all that learned in the game to know they made 12 threes and we made eight, and therein was the game."

On the Saint Joe's side, Tyrone Barely made four of six. Pat Carroll drained five of his seven attempts. West hit two of five.

Martelli, the Hawks' fiery coach, said it was time to get over the Packer spat and enjoy the ride.

"It's really not about sticking our chests out," Martelli said. "Enough is enough. We're 30-1, we're in the Elite Eight. We are the best story in college basketball and it should be celebrated."

Martelli has reason to celebrate these days. He has the best player in the country in Nelson and is milking every ounce out of the savvy senior point guard.

Martelli's game plan against a younger Wake Forest team was simple: try to forge a second-half lead, secure what he called "a working margin" and then let Nelson take control of the game.

Everything worked to plan. Nelson finished with 24 points and seven assists. West added 24 points, meaning the Hawks' backcourt accounted for more than half of the points.

It only got sloppy in the end, after Nelson's free throw put Saint Joe's up by seven, 79-72, with less than a minute to play.

Wake Forest point guard Chris Paul answered with a quick basket, trimming the lead to five. Pat Carroll turned the ball over to Wake Forest on the in-bounds pass and, before you knew it, Justin Gray had nailed an open three-pointer with 44 seconds left to cut it to 79-77.

Saint Joe's built the lead back to four on Chet Stachitas' follow shot on a Nelson miss. Wake Forest (21-10) would work the margin back to two before West's final two free throws, the last one bouncing around the rim before settling in, sealed it.

Gray led the Demon Deacons with 23 points.Paul, the sensational freshman who scored 29 in Wake Forest's last win against Manhattan, was held to 12 points on two of six shooting.

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