- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 27, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli didn’t get to sleep after the Hawks defeated Wake Forest in an East Rutherford regional semifinal Thursday night. The game ended with a Saint Joseph’s celebration on the Continental Airlines Arena floor early yesterday morning.

“I would only suggest to you, once in your life, you should see the sunrise in Secaucus [N.J.],” said Martelli, clearly enjoying the moment.

Martelli, who reviewed tapes much of the night, didn’t mind losing sleep because the Philadelphia school is one step away from its first Final Four in 43 seasons. Saint Joe’s, 30-1 and the region’s top seed, meets No.2 Oklahoma State tonight in a compelling final between teams with radically different styles.

“[They are] very physical,” said Hawks All-American guard Jameer Nelson. “They like to get into the lane a lot.”

Nelson leads the Hawks’ perimeter bomb squad, which unloaded 12 3-pointers on 24 attempts in Thursday’s 84-80 win over Wake Forest. Saint Joe’s often has four guards on the floor and prefers to exploit its quickness and deliver deep daggers rather than pound the paint.

“I have never seen a team that does the job any better in being able to penetrate, kick it out for an open shot and knock it down,” said Oklahoma State coach Eddie Sutton, who last took the Cowboys to the Final Four in 1995. “Sometimes it’s better to give up a two-point basket than it is to allow somebody to break your defense down and kick it out and shoot a trey.”

Although Nelson and Greenbelt native Delonte West lead the Hawks’ explosive attack, unheralded guard Tyrone Barley ultimately could decide the game.

Barley, a senior guard and defensive stopper, will match up with the Cowboys’ Tony Allen, a physical 6-foot-4 senior who causes havoc in the lane as evidenced by his 23 points in the Cowboys’ 63-51 semifinal win over Pittsburgh. The junior college transfer has a lot of playground in his game and creates his shot off the dribble close to the basket with a devastating drop-step and deceptive quickness.

Allen, who was the Big12 MVP in voting by the coaches, displayed his versatility in the second half of Oklahoma State’s latest win.

“He’s extremely athletic, a strong, aggressive driver,” Oklahoma State assistant coach Sean Sutton said. “He’s hard to keep in front of you when he is going to the basket. He is probably not a great outside shooter, but he makes plays.”

And Barley stops plays, in the semifinal frustrating Wake Forest’s Chris Paul. The ACC’s Freshman of the Year never found his rhythm, and the Demon Deacons’ potent attack never took off, particularly in transition.

Barley refined his defensive skills in practice, where he covers Nelson and successfully hounds the Naismith Award winner.

“I feel if I can stop him, and he’s the best in the country, then I can stop anyone,” said Barley, a 6-foot-1 guard who comes off the bench.

Nelson credits Barley for elevating his game.

“I believe that made me a lot tougher, really helped me become a better scorer,” said Nelson, who averages 20.7. “He’s the glue on our team. He brings it every day in practice.”

Barley, who averages 7.3 points, had a rare offensive explosion with 13 points on four of six 3-pointers in the semifinal. But he knows what his role is tonight — to shut down the Cowboys’ top weapon.

“We feel as though Allen is their biggest threat,” said Barley, a New York City native who chose Saint Joe’s over Boston College. “Basically, I am going to try to take him out of the lane. He’s not really that great of a shooter. I would rather have him shoot a jump shot. … We are going to play a soft man-to-man and force them to shoot over us.”

On the opposite end, Saint Joe’s will be drooling when it gets open, deep looks. The Hawks have four players who make at least 41 percent of their 3s, not including Nelson (38.6 percent).

The Cowboys hope a pounding game will fatigue the Hawks’ shooters and will rely on point guard John Lucas III to penetrate so Allen and other post threats like 6-foot-7 Joey Graham and 6-8 Ivan McFarlin can take their toll on the smaller Hawks.

“Mentally, I can certainly prepare them [for a physical game],” Martelli said. “I can draw pictures of Boston College, Gonzaga. Rhode Island kind of manhandled us. Xavier manhandled us. I can draw that picture. You can’t practice that. Nor can they practice our 3’s and how we are going to spread them out. It is a very interesting challenge.”

And one worth losing sleep over.

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