Cowboys put end to St. Joe's dream

Posted: Sunday, March 28, 2004

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. The kid with the famous NBA name showed college basketball's player of the year how to do it.

John Lucas hit a 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left, Jameer Nelson missed right before the buzzer and Oklahoma State held off Saint Joseph's 64-62 in a thriller Saturday night for a trip to the Final Four.

''I made sure my feet were under me and just shot it,'' Lucas said. Asked if he knew it was good the moment he let fly, he said, ''Absolutely.''

And then in an NCAA tournament marked by late misses, it happened again.

Nelson's fadeaway jumper ticked off the rim and the East Rutherford regional ended with the unanimous All-American sitting on the court above the top of the key. His disbelieving teammates scattered around, bent over at the hips and staring down.

''Every time I shoot the ball, I think it's in,'' Nelson said.

The last rebound fittingly landed in Lucas' arms, and he cradled the ball. He celebrated by racing toward the stands and jumping into his dad's arms for a big embrace.

The family has seen a lot of big shots the elder Lucas was a former No. 1 NBA pick and enjoyed a stellar career before becoming a pro coach. Now the son has a moment to call his own.

''We really didn't say too much of anything, we were just hugging each other and rejoicing,'' the Cowboys star said.

Coach Eddie Sutton and Oklahoma State (31-3) thought they deserved to be a top seed more than Saint Joseph's (30-2) a view held by many people and given voice by CBS analyst Billy Packer.

The Cowboys proved it the right way, on the court, and advanced to play the Kansas-Georgia Tech winner next Saturday at the Alamodome in San Antonio.

The Hawks headed back to their small campus in Philadelphia, the feel-good story of the year in college basketball finally over.

''They will remember this team at Saint Joe's for a long time,'' Packer said.

Lucas shot 7-for-20 and scored 19 points, including the final five of the game.

''I had a horrible first half. I shot three airballs. I never shoot airballs,'' he said. ''I told myself in the locker room at halftime that I was going to step up.''

It was a frenzied final minute, played without a timeout as the 68-year-old Sutton and counterpart Phil Martelli let the players decide it.

Lucas' jumper put Oklahoma State ahead with 41 seconds left before Saint Joseph's, again relying on outside shots, regained the lead on Pat Carroll's 3-pointer with 29.9 seconds to go.

Lucas then got free on the left wing and hit the biggest shot of his career. Nelson tried to answer, but his shot over Daniel Bobik was off-target.

''He's the best player in America. He's been doing it all season,'' Carroll said. ''Who better would you like to have the ball in their hands?''

Oklahoma State earned its first Final Four trip since Sutton took them there in 1995, when Bryant ''Big Country'' Reeves helped the Cowboys win the regional final on the same Meadowlands court.

Reeves was in attendance as Sutton got his third trip overall after also making it with Arkansas.

''I probably won't have too many more opportunities to get there,'' Sutton said. ''I won't be coaching forever.''

Joey Graham added 17 points, Tony Allen had 12 and Ivan McFarlin had nine points and 12 rebounds.

McFarlin and Terrence Crawford are the only Oklahoma State players left from 2001, when a plane crash killed two players and eight members of the Cowboys' basketball family.

Lucas is familiar with tragedy, too. He transferred from Baylor last summer in the aftermath of Patrick Dennehy's shooting death and the scandal that enveloped the school.

Nelson shot 6-for-18 and finished with 17 points and Delonte West had 20 points.

''I missed some layups I should have made,'' Nelson said.

The game was billed as a matchup of the Hawks' speed vs. the Cowboys' strength, and that's how it went for a while. But in the end, it came down to what Allen said it would a day earlier ''buckets'' and Oklahoma State made the last one.

Lucas made only one of six shots before the break, and the Cowboys trailed 33-27.

''I think he played at a faster clip in the second half,'' Martelli said. ''I thought we could throw him out of synch. I thought the speed with which they attacked in the second half was the difference for him.''

The CBS telecast opened with the Hawk and Cowboy mascots standing right behind the announcers.

Asked about his previous comments on Saint Joseph's, Packer said, ''This is an outstanding team, they really play well together.''



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