SAN DIEGO (Ticker) -- The little school that could used a big-city game to nearly pull a monumental upset.
Stanford, on the verge of an early NCAA Tournament loss for the third straight season, went 10-of-10 from the foul line in the final minute to edge St. Joseph's, 90-83, in a thrilling West Region second-round game at the Cox Arena.
The top-seeded Cardinal (30-2) overcame a career high-tying and 2001 NCAA Tournament-best 37 points by junior Marvin O'Connor to post their school-record 30th win and will meet Cincinnati in the West Region semifinals on Thursday in Anaheim.
"I am relieved," said Stanford coach Mike Montgomery. "I feel a lot of emotion because I thought we deserved to keep playing. When you get to this situation in this tournament and you are a good team, there is always a but attached. This was a tough game, the last two years they have been tough games. There is a sense of relief for sure." St. Joseph's (26-7), a Philadelphia school with an enrollment of approximately 3,500, had Stanford on the ropes after rallying from a 14-point deficit to take a 72-69 lead with 6:17 remaining.
The teams entered the final minute tied at 80-80 after O'Connor, a Philadelphia native, hit a jumper and followed shortly thereafter with a layup on the break with 1:34 remaining. O'Connor was 15-of-20 from the field and made half of his 10 3-point attempts.
"You have to give credit to the role players on this team because without them, we don't get the shots," said O'Connor. "They don't get the exposure but they do things that are just as important for us." Coached by the colorful Phil Martelli, the Hawks feature several players from Philadelphia and its suburbs who prepped in the city's famed Catholic League, one of the nation's top high school associations.
Once the pace of Saturday's game changed from slow and methodical to fast and furious, the Hawks felt at home and began climbing back against Stanford, which has been ranked first or second in the nation since the first week of January.
"We wanted a high-scoring game, but I didn't know we would need 91 to win," Martelli said. "I thought if could get 75, we would win." As the clock ticked under 60 seconds, it appeared St. Joseph's was in position to pull the upset as Stanford All-American Casey Jacobsen misfired on a 3-pointer from the right wing.
But on the ensuing scramble for possession, the Hawks kicked the ball out of bounds, giving it to the Cardinal entering the last officials' timeout.
"At one point, I thought they were tightening up a little bit," O'Connor added. "They are an experienced ball club. Down the stretch, they showed their maturity and they didn't miss one (at the foul line) and you just wish them the best." After the stoppage, point guard Mike McDonald missed a 3-pointer, but Ryan Mendez grabbed the rebound off the floor and was fouled as he tried to score. The nation's best free-throw shooter at over 94 percent, Mendez gave Stanford a two-point lead.
O'Connor went for the lead -- and perhaps the victory -- but his 3-pointer from the left wing would not fall and the ball ended up in the hands of Jarron Collins, the worst free-throw shooter among Stanford regulars at 67 percent.
Collins, however, calmly made both attempts at the line and Mendez did the same after a turnover by Hawks freshman point guard Jameer Nelson, who finished one rebound shy of a triple-double.
O'Connor drilled a 3-pointer with 12 seconds left to bring St. Joseph's back within three points, but Collins again was perfect from the line with 11 seconds remaining to seal the victory.
"It was a great game," said McDonald. "We fought, we battled, we lost the lead and we got it back. Nelson played exteremely well, he's everything they said he'd be. He almost had a triple-double and he's a freshman playing in the NCAA Tournament." Jason Collins collected 22 points and nine rebounds for the Cardinal, who reached the Final Four in 1998 -- their first trip there since winning the 1942 national crown -- but had been an NCAA Tournament disappointment since.
"Basically it (free-throw shooting) is practice and having Ryan Mendez with us definitely helps," Jason Collins said. "When the game is on the line, you just have to focus. Each free throw is important and you have to concentrate and knock them down." Seeded second in 1999, Stanford suffered a second-round loss to Gonzaga and last season, also as the top seed in the South Region, was eliminated at the same point by North Carolina. Friday's victory for the three-time Pac-10 Conference champion sends it to the "Sweet 16" for just the fourth time in school history.
Jacobsen scored 21 points and Jarron Collins had 15 with six rebounds for Stanford, which connected on 46 percent (26-of-56) of its shots, including 7-of-15 from 3-point range, and held a 31-29 advantage on the boards.
"They (St. Joseph's) bring a lot of attitude and swagger," said Jacobsen. "I compare them to UCLA with their confidence. They believe they can beat anyone and that's the way they play. Those are they types of games that we have to endure." Making its first NCAA appearance since reaching the "Sweet 16" in 1997, the Atlantic 10 Conference regular-season champion Hawks received 14 points from Nelson and 10 from Philadelphia native Na'im Crenshaw.
Nelson, the Atlantic 10 Freshman of the Year, dished out nine assists for the Hawks, who finished at 57 percent (31-of-54) from the floor but were outscored at the foul line, 31-15.
"It (the season) was a great expreience," Nelson said. "The team and the coaching staff, they accepted me from the beginning. I am looking forward to coming back after working out in the summer." .