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Updated: Thursday, March 18, 2004 7:24 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(1) Saint Josephs 82, (16) Liberty 63

BUFFALO, New York (Ticker) -- Phil Martelli may have sparred with Billy Packer, but Saint Joseph's toyed with Liberty.

Jameer Nelson scored 22 of his season-high 33 points in the first half when the top-seeded Hawks built a 20-point lead en route to an 82-63 rout of 16th-seeded Liberty in the first round of the East Rutherford Region.

St. Joseph's (28-1) played only its second game in 16 days and first since a bid for an unbeaten season was ruined by Xavier, 87-67 last Thursday in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament.

It played like a team anxious to do its talking on the court after Martelli, the outspoken coach of the Hawks, spent "Selection Sunday" verbally sparring with Packer, the longtime CBS college basketball analyst who believes St. Joseph's did not deserve a top seed.

"It (the incident with Packer) did not have any impact on our preparation or our mind-set going into this game," Martelli said. "We were just anxious to get back out on the court and get out the bad taste the last game left us."

Martelli now gets a chance to match wits with Bob Knight on Saturday when St. Joseph's meets eighth-seeded Texas Tech in the second round.

Liberty (18-15) did not provide any resistance as Nelson turned the game into his personal playground. He hit his first three jumpers, including a 3-pointer, and a pair of free throws in the first 3:03 as St. Joseph's raced to a 9-1 lead.

"It was just a matter of my teammates finding me the ball and the ball went in," Nelson said. "Coach called some plays for me and the guys got me the ball."

The Atlantic 10 Player of the Year, Nelson had 16 points by the midway point of the half, six more than Liberty. By the time the Flames caught up to Nelson in scoring, St. Joseph's had a 38-18 lead with 4:13 left in the half.

"He (Nelson) is definitely a lot better than you think he is," Liberty guard Ryan Mantlo said. "You know how good he is but you don't realize until you're guarding him. If he's hitting his shots, you can't stop him."

Liberty got no closer than 18 in the second half.

Nelson scored 11 points in the first 12 minutes of the second half before leaving with St. Joseph's holding a 71-48 lead. He hit 11-of-17 shots from the floor and 8-of-9 from the line.

"I told him (Nelson) before the game that this is what great players live for," Martelli said. "Great players lead in these situations and he has the innate ability to understand what leading means. That's why he's the best player in the nation. He can just impact the game by understanding what needs to be done."

Delonte West, Nelson's backcourt partner, had 18 points and nine rebounds.

Freshman David Dees led Liberty with 22 points off the bench on 7-of-9 shooting. But the rest of his teammates made just 15-of-42 shots.

It was the second NCAA Tournament appearance for Liberty, the Big South champion, in exactly 10 years. The Flames lost to North Carolina, 71-51, in the first round as a 16th seed in 1994.


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