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Updated: Saturday, March 15, 2003 2:45 AM EST
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(21) Dayton 76, Saint Josephs 73
Dayton Flyers
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St. Joseph's (PA) Hawks
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DAYTON, Ohio (Ticker) -- Jameer Nelson did everything he could with a career-high 39 points, but could not lift Saint Joseph's with a final shot.

Nelson fouled out with 6.8 seconds left and could only watch as the Hawks fell, 76-73, to No. 21 Dayton in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals.

Nelson, who scored 26 of the Hawks' 45 points in the second half, brought St. Joseph's (23-6) within 75-73 on a pair of free throws with 43 seconds left.

Down by only two points, the Hawks got Ramod Marshall to miss a 3-point attempt for the Flyers (23-5). But Nate Green came down with the rebound, and Nelson was the closest player to him, so he had to give his final foul.

"If I didn't have to play tonight in order for us to win, that's what I would rather do," Nelson said. "The last play was questionable. If you're going to call a hand-check on me, why not call a hand-check on them?"

"Special people in special times do special things," said St. Joseph's coach Phil Martelli. "He is first and foremost a special person. That was probably a once-in-a-lifetime performance by a once-in-a-lifetime player. The superlatives about him are that he hurts worse than anybody and that's why he's as good as anybody at that position in the country."

After Green made 1-of-2 free throws to leave the door open for St. Joseph's, D.J. Stelly stripped Pat Carroll before the Hawks' 3-point specialist could launch a tying shot.

Carroll expected a foul similar to the one called on Nelson, but the call never happened and he lost the ball.

"The ref didn't call a foul," Carroll said. "I expected a foul. The whole second half, they'd been calling the reaching in and hand-checking fouls. I expected to get one, but it's up to the ref.

"I thought (Stelly) he did a great job of being aggressive on the drive," Dayton coach Oliver Purnell said. "I thought the last play was a very intelligent play to leave the non-shooter and come double on the dribble."

Carroll, who was the nation's third-leading 3-point shooter during the regular season, missed all four attempts from the arc.

Dayton will try to earn its first NCAA Tournament berth since 2000 by clinching the conference title Saturday against Temple, which topped No. 10 Xavier, 63-57, in the other semifinal.

"I'm very excited," Flyers forward Brooks Hall said. "I came in my freshman year and we did some good things that year and I want to go out that way. Hopefully I can I be a part of Dayton's first A-10 championship. It's a really exciting thing for me."

St. Joseph's trailed by as many as 19 points in the second half, but drew even at 69-69 after a 15-4 run with 3:31 left.

The Hawks had a chance to take the lead, trailing 72-71 with about a minute to go. But Delonte West missed a jump shot in the lane. West, who played with a stress fracture in his lower leg, scored four points off the bench.

Marshall led the Flyers with 15 points. Brooks Hall added 14 and Mark Jones had 13.

Dayton could have had an easier time putting away the game if it had hit free throws down the stretch. The Flyers hit just 8-of-16 from the line in the second half, including 6-of-11 in the final 3:46.

Nelson made 11-of-19 shots and 14-of-16 free throws. His teammates provided little support, shooting 42 percent (13-of-31) from the field and 58 percent (7-of-12) from the stripe.

Nelson collected five assists, four rebounds, three steals and a block.

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