SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- It was a tale of two halves, but St. Joseph's built enough of a cushion to survive.
A 15-0 first-half run helped the ninth-seeded Hawks build a 17-point halftime lead and they held off eighth-seeded Georgia Tech, 66-62, in a first-round NCAA Tournament West Region game at the Cox Arena.
Marvin O'Connor, the second-leading scorer in the Atlantic 10 Conference at 21.5 points per game, led St. Joseph's (26-6) with 21 points. His backcourt mate, freshman Jameer Nelson, had 13 points, eight assists and seven rebounds.
Ironically, Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt recruited and coached O'Connor when he was an assistant at Villanova in 1997, but O'Connor transferred to St. Joseph's after one season.
It was an especially frustrating day for Georgia Tech senior center Alvin Jones, who did not attempt a field goal and missed all three of his free-throw attempts in the first half when the Yellow Jackets fell into a 41-24 hole.
"That was pretty much the game plan, to limit his (Jones) touches," O'Connor said. "I think we did a pretty good job of it." But guards Tony Akins and Darryl LaBarrie sparked a comeback as Georgia Tech (17-13) opened the second half with a 23-9 run. A basket in the lane by LaBarrie capped the spurt, pulling the Yellow Jackets within 50-47 with 10:31 left.
St. Joseph's missed 10 of its first 12 shots of the half before O'Connor drilled a 3-pointer with 10:08 remaining.
After a pair of free throws by LaBarrie, O'Connor connected on another 3-pointer and threw down a dunk off a turnover, opening a 58-49 advantage with 8:16 left.
"Marvin saved us there with his two 3-pointers and the dunk," said St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. "That kind of stemmed the tide for us after they had grabbed the momentum." "Good players make big shots at the most important times, and Marvin made two shots when we cut it to three," Hewitt said. "He got back screens that sprung him for those jumpers, but he knocked them down." Georgia Tech again pulled within three, 61-58, after a layup by Akins with 1:43 left.
After Nelson and Akins each converted a pair of free throws, St. Joseph's center Damian Reid missed the front end of a 1-and-1.
With a chance to tie with a 3-pointer, Akins flipped a driving shot in the lane which went off the back rim with 52 seconds left. The Yellow Jackets immediately fouled Nelson, who also missed the front end of a 1-and-1, giving them another chance to tie.
But in what perhaps best summarized Georgia Tech's frustration, Jones missed a slam dunk off an alley-oop pass, although it appeared he was fouled on the play by Bill Phillips with 32 seconds left.
"He (LaBarrie) threw it up pretty high and there was some body contact and I don't know if I got hit on the arm, because I felt awkward," Jones said. "I know I got hit in some kind of way. I should have made the basket, but I was hoping it could have been a three-point play. It happened to pop out. It was just a tough call, not to have a foul there." After the non-call, Nelson converted both ends of a 1-and-1 to give St. Joseph's a 65-60 lead with 29 seconds remaining.
LaBarrie scored a basket in the lane after a miss by Akins with 15 seconds left, but Nelson added a free throw with 12.9 seconds remaining.
St. Joseph's, which advanced to the "Sweet 16" out of the West Region in 1997 under coach Phil Martelli, will play top-seeded Stanford in the second round on Saturday.
Akins, Georgia Tech's leading scorer at 14.5 points per game, had 16 points, but was just 4-of-11 from the field. LaBarrie scored 15 off the bench.
"We fought hard, but we dug ourselves too big a hole in the first half," Akins said. "St. Joe's made it hard for us to score in the first half." After averaging a double-double with 13.6 points and 10.3 rebounds this season, Jones finished with eight points and 12 rebounds.
"He wasn't establishing himself in the post enough," Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt said. "In the second half, he asserted himself more. But he carried us to this point and should be credited for that." Georgia Tech finished fifth in the Atlantic Coast Conference and participated in the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1996, but it was a short stay mainly because of a disastrous first half.
St. Joseph's may have come out more fired up than usual after a minor incident in the warmups. Apparently, the Hawks took exception when some members of Georgia Tech conducted warmups on St. Joseph's side of the court.
"We are not going to back down from anyone," Nelson said. "They were on our side of the court warming up and we asked them nicely to please move down to the other side of the court and they refused to. So a couple of our guys took it personal and started a couple of arguments." Akins had a different view of the incident.
"We were just going through our regular stretch and some of their players had a few comments to us," Akins said. "We just didn't appreciate the comments, but it was nothing serious.
After a basket by Shaun Fein pulled Georgia Tech within 11-10 with 13:02 left, the Yellow Jackets went more than 7 1/2 minutes without a point.
Meanwhile, the Hawks went on a 15-0 run as Reid scored a pair of layups and O'Connor added a layup and a pair of free throws.
A basket by Phillips inside off a pass from Nelson capped the spurt and opened a 26-10 lead with 5:41 left.
A pair of free throws by Akins with 5:37 remaining ended the drought.
After a 3-pointer by Marvin Lewis helped Georgia Tech cut the deficit to 28-20, St. Joseph's closed the half with a 13-4 run. Na'im Crenshaw hit a 3-pointer and O'Connor converted a layup after a steal in the final minute to open a 41-24 halftime lead.
Georgia Tech shot just 38 percent (9-of-24) in the half and finished at 37 percent for the game, including an abysmal 3-of-18 from 3-point range.
But the Yellow Jackets got back into the game because St. Joseph's managed to shoot just under 30 percent in the second half (8-of-27) and finished 4-of-23 from 3-point range.
"Our offense wasn't really flowing, but our defense pulled us through," O'Connor said. "At this point in the season you have to have the mentality that however you can get it done, get it done. If the shots are not falling, you have to shut the other guys down." St. Joseph's opened its biggest lead at 46-28 on a 3-pointer by O'Connor with 18:16 left.
But Georgia Tech responded with an 11-0 run, capped by a dunk by Jones with 14:42 remaining.