6:00 PM ET, March 11, 2006
CINCINNATI (AP) -- Down to its last 5.1 seconds, a Xavier team given up for lost only a month ago found its way back to the NCAA Tournament.
Two free throws. Two blocks. One huge celebration.
Justin Doellman made two free throws with 5.1 seconds left, and Xavier blocked Dwayne Lee's last two shots, holding on for a 62-61 victory over Saint Joseph's for the Atlantic 10 tournament championship Saturday.
Doellman blocked Lee's driving layup out of bounds with 1.3 seconds left, and Justin Cage swatted away Lee's 3-point attempt at the buzzer, bringing hundreds of Xavier fans onto the floor for an unexpected celebration.
Xavier (21-10) became the first team in Division I history to pull off an improbable feat for the second time -- winning four games in four days for a tournament title. The Musketeers also did it in 2004 for their last NCAA appearance.
"It's been a roller coaster," said Doellman, who has played the last three weeks with two broken bones in his shooting hand. "It's really brought us together, and we got on a roll."
Before he went to the line for the decisive free throws, Doellman -- a 77 percent shooter -- got encouragement from coach Sean Miller.
"He just told me he believed in me, be a big-time player and knock down the shots," said Doellman, whose hand is heavily taped.
Saint Joseph's (18-13) wasted a 10-point lead in the final 7 minutes, losing the A-10 title game for the second straight year. This one hurt far worse -- the game was that good.
"I told our players the only thing we don't leave with is the trophy," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "We played like champions."
So did Xavier, which had to continually reinvent itself after a devastating February. Leading scorer Brian Thornton broke his ankle, Doellman broke two bones in his shooting hand, and senior point guard Dedrick Finn was kicked off the team for a rule violation.
Appropriately, the Musketeers hoisted Thornton to the rim to cut down the last shred of net and finish their celebration.
"For a coach, this is the ultimate fulfillment," Miller said. "You go through some adversity -- in our case, a lot of adversity -- and all of the doubts. It can galvanize you. It can take you to higher places, if it doesn't break you. That's what happened to us."
Xavier claimed its third A-10 title in the last five years with a wild finish, blocking five of Saint Joseph's last six shots.
Chet Stachitas led the Hawks with 23 points, and the nation's best free-throw shooting team went 24-of-27 from the line. But in the end, Xavier's two free throws and two swats pulled it out.
Cage led Xavier with 19 points and three blocked shots.
The tournament was wide-open after the top four seeds, including No. 6 George Washington, all lost in the quarterfinals. At No. 10, Xavier was the lowest seed to reach an A-10 final.
The tournament has turned into a dead-end for Saint Joseph's in recent years. The Hawks were ranked No. 1 and undefeated in 2004, when Xavier beat them by 20 points in the quarterfinals at Dayton. Both teams went on to the NCAA Tournament's final eight.
Last year, Saint Joseph's lost to George Washington in the A-10 title game, costing the Hawks an NCAA berth. This time, Xavier kept them out.
Feeding off the energy of the hometown crowd, Xavier put together a 16-2 run midway through the first half. Cage had a 3-pointer, dunk and layup during the run, which featured baskets from five players and put the Musketeers ahead 20-7.
During a timeout, Saint Joseph's pulled itself together. The defense toughened, forcing three consecutive turnovers, and the Hawks started using their height advantage. Six-foot-10 forward Pat Calathes -- taller than anyone on Xavier's front line -- made three consecutive baskets during a 13-0 run that tied it at 20 and set a back-and-forth pace.
After a loosely officiated first half -- five free throws combined -- Saint Joseph's decided to force the issue and draw fouls. Eleven of its first 16 points in the second half came on free throws.
Saint Joseph's made six consecutive free throws, and Rob Ferguson's 3-pointer completed a 12-2 spurt that gave the Hawks their biggest lead, 56-46, with 7:19 to go.
Consecutive 3s by Stanley Burrell started Xavier's comeback, and Cage's inside basket tied it at 59 with 1:45 to go.
Ferguson's 10-foot jumper gave Saint Joseph's a one-point lead with 14 seconds left, but Doellman was fouled hard as he drove to the hoop, setting up those decisive free throws.
Team Stat Comparison
|FG Made-Attempted||22-44 (.500)||16-47 (.340)|
|3P Made-Attempted||9-15 (.600)||5-15 (.333)|
|FT Made-Attempted||9-13 (.692)||24-27 (.889)|
|Fouls (Tech/Flagrant)||21 (0/0)||19 (0/0)|