ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. — A little tough love from coach Phil Martelli has Saint Joseph's on the verge of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in four years.
Martelli was blunt with his players on the eve of the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament, telling them to win or pack their bags. There was going to be no NCAA or even an NIT bid if the Hawks didn't run the tournament.
Now Saint Joseph's has rolled over three straight opponents, and No. 10 Xavier became the latest victim Friday night, falling 61-53.
Pat Calathes scored 24 to lead the way, and Saint Joseph's held top-seeded Xavier to a season-low point total in the process.
"I'm telling you, if we had lost any one of these last three games, we were going home for good," Martelli said. "If that put a little knot in their stomachs, good, because I've had a knot in my stomach trying to figure out what the right message to deliver was, and it worked with this group."
Fifth-seeded Saint Joseph's can lock up its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2003-04 tonight.
Despite the loss, the top-seeded Musketeers are all but guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
"Winning 27 games I know it has put us in a good position," Xavier coach Sean Miller said. "Our goal all season has been to get back to the tournament and once we get their to fight like crazy to advance."
Ahmad Nivins added 15 points for the Hawks, whose tough man-to-man defense limited Xavier to 37 percent shooting from the field, including only one basket outside the paint.
No. 2 Memphis 69, So. Miss. 53:
Slowing the Tigers is hard enough. Southern Mississippi now is merely the latest C-USA team to find out how impossible it is to beat them on their own floor.
Derrick Rose scored 25 and the Tigers advanced to the conference tournament championship for a fourth straight year, beating Southern Mississippi in Memphis for its 41st consecutive league victory.
"Big difference in playing them in Hattiesburg than playing them here," Southern Miss coach Larry Eustachy said. "That's just growth. You learn from that, and they'll log it, and we'll be better for it. And then, it'll be a lot better when No. 23 goes pro. It'll get a lot better when that happens."
That No. 23 would be Rose, the freshman who had four of Memphis' seven made 3s in the game and scored 16 of his 25 in the second half. Rose said it's not easy to stick to the game plan when opponents are pushing almost every possession down the court.
"You've just got to stay focused, try to stay focused and make plays. That's why you're on the court," Rose said.
Tulsa 64, UTEP 62, OT: Calvin Walls scored the first four in overtime at the free-throw line, and the Golden Hurricane held on. Ben Uzoh, who finished with 17 points for Tulsa, put the game out of reach with two more free throws with 35.7 seconds left. Brett McDade's free throw with 4.8 seconds remaining provided the final margin. Stefon Jackson's desperation shot for the Miners from just inside midcourt as time ran out went over the backboard, sending Tulsa to its first conference tournament championship game since 2003, when it won the Western Athletic Conference.
No. 5 Kansas 64, Nebraska 54:
Like the hysterical movie hero who calms down and collects himself after a slap across the face, Bill Self felt like saying, "Thanks, Nebraska — we needed that."
Kansas played perhaps its worst 20 minutes of the season, falling nine points behind a Nebraska team it had beaten 19 of the past 20 times they'd played. But Brandon Rush helped key a 14-4 getaway in the second half and the Jayhawks held on in Kansas City, Mo.
"I told our guys that we needed this. We needed to be behind in the first half," said Self, the Jayhawks' relieved coach. "You don't ever like it when your team doesn't perform. But how many teams have done well in the NCAA tournament that haven't been behind?"
Kansas, a 15-point favorite, had 12 turnovers and only eight field goals in a ragged and sloppy first half and trailed 27-22 at intermission. The hugely partisan crowd in Kansas City's new Sprint Center sat in stunned silence as Nebraska gathered momentum and confidence and began to look almost dominant.
But Darnell Jackson scored the first basket of the second half, then Mario Chalmers made a long 3-pointer to launch the comeback, and Nebraska never recovered.
No. 6 Texas 66, Okla. St. 59: D.J. Augustin wiped out Oklahoma State's halftime lead with a single shot. A few minutes later the quick and crafty point guard had obliterated all of the Cowboys' hard-earned momentum and put the Longhorns on the road to victory.
Damion James had 23 points and 11 rebounds and Augustin powered a 14-0 run starting the second half for top-seeded Texas, which sprang an uncharacteristic zone defense that seemed to confuse the Cowboys.
"We had to slow the whole team down," said Augustin, who led the conference in assists for the second straight year and was second in scoring. "We needed to get stops on defense and not let them get easy baskets. They have a lot of great players. I think we did a great job helping each other and playing pretty good defense."
Okla. 54, Colorado 49: Tony Crocker had 12 points and the Sooners survived an off day from all-conference forward Blake Griffin to beat the Buffaloes. Oklahoma got off to a fast start, stalled, then needed a late run to hold off pesky Colorado. Longar Longar had 11 points and nine rebounds but turned it over seven times. Taylor Griffin, Blake's brother, added 10 points for Oklahoma.
Patriot: Make room in the bracket for the red, white and blue. American is finally going to the NCAA Tournament. The Eagles won the Patriot League title with a 52-46 victory over Colgate in Washington. Students and alumni stormed the court to celebrate American's first trip to the big show since the school joined Division I in 1967. Garrison Carr scored 17, and Brian Gilmore scored 11 and wrestled away a key steal in the final 20 seconds for the top-seeded Eagles, whose only previous berth in an NCAA Tournament came as a Division II school in 1960.
MAC: Chris McKnight scored 16 as Akron got back to the conference title game for the second straight year with a 73-63 win over Western Michigan in Cleveland. The Zips, beaten by Miami of Ohio on a controversial buzzer-beating shot in last year's tournament championship, avenged a 22-point loss to the Broncos last month. Now they'll get a chance to play for their first NCAA tournament appearance since 1986.
WAC: Utah State coach Stew Morrill insisted there wasn't much separating the conference's top four teams, and Boise State sure proved him right. Matt Bauscher and Reggie Larry each scored 23 and Aaron Garner came off the bench for a career-high 14 as the fourth-seeded Broncos beat the Aggies in Las Cruces, N.M.
SWAC: Carl Lucas had 20 points to lead Mississippi Valley State to a 70-59 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the semifinals. The Delta Devils will face the winner of Friday's semifinal game between Alabama State and Jackson State in today's final.
MEAC: Reggie Holmes scored 18, including 10 of 12 free throws in the final 1:09, to lead Morgan State to 61-55 semifinal victory over Delaware State in Raleigh, N.C. Top-seeded Morgan State will play seventh-seeded Coppin State in the championship game today.
Southland: Anthony Vereen scored 20 to lead Texas-Arlington to a 72-66 win over Sam Houston State in the semifinals in Katy, Texas. Rog'er Guignard added 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the seventh-seeded Mavericks, who will make their fourth appearance in the SLC tournament finals Sunday.
State: Eckerd College senior guard Damone Morris was named to the second-team All-South Region on Thursday. This month he was an All-Sunshine State Conference first-team honoree.