KINGSTON, Rhode Island (Ticker) -- Delonte West provided St. Joseph's with a narrow escape.
West nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 57 seconds left as the second-ranked Hawks matched an Atlantic 10 Conference record with its 26th straight triumph to start the season, 57-55 over Rhode Island.
St. Joseph's (26-0, 15-0 A-10 East) matched the 26-0 start by the 1995-96 Massachusetts squad and has one regular season game left against St. Bonaventure on Tuesday before the start of the A-10 tournament.
No team has entered the NCAA Tournament with an unbeaten record since Nevada-Las Vegas in 1991.
Top-ranked Stanford is also unbeaten.
This win did not come easy as Rhode Island put up a game fight in front of a capacity crowd and held a 55-53 lead after Dustin Hellenga made 1-of-2 at the line with 1:22 left.
With the fans on their feet and the noise reaching a peak, St. Joseph's calmly worked the ball around the perimeter before West took a pass from Pat Carroll and drilled his shot from the right of the top of the key to give the Hawks the lead for good.
"I knew I could count on Jameer (Nelson) or Delonte," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "You've got to have a big heart to take that shot."
The Rams' Dawan Robinson missed a pair of shots before West split a pair at the line with 19 seconds left. That left Rhode Island (17-12, 6-9) one final chance and Robinson left a runner in the lane short with four seconds to go.
The rebound caromed out to the Rams' Steve Mello, a senior playing his final home game. But there was no storybook ending for Mello, whose hurried 3-pointer was off as time expired.
"Just a gut-check win," Martelli said. "That's for all those people who said what would we do in a close game."
It was the first game in which the Hawks did not win by double digits since a 74-67 decision at Villanova on February 2. St. Joseph's survived its closest test since a 59-57 win against California on December 20.
Nelson finished with 21 points and West added 19 as St. Joseph's avoided the same fate from last season's visit to the Ryan Center. Nelson missed a pair of free throws down the stretch and Brian Woodward's follow shot at the buzzer gave the Rams a 58-57 triumph.
The recipe for an upset was there as St. Joseph's - the top 3-point shooting team in the conference - was off. The Hawks were just 6-of-26 from the arc and West and Nelson each made 2-of-7 attempts.
"We had good shots all day," Martelli said. "The ball just didn't go in."
Rhode Island put its best foot forward again, getting 15 points from reserve Dustin Hellenga and 13 from Robinson. But the Rams were 10-of-19 from the foul line, including several misses down the stretch.
The Hawks shot just 36 percent (19-of-53) overall and turned in their lowest point total of the season.