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Updated: Saturday, March 27, 2004 11:09 PM EST
NCAA BASKETBALL RECAP
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(2) Oklahoma St 64, (1) Saint Josephs 62

EAST RUTHERFORD, New Jersey (Ticker) -- John Lucas put aside a frustrating first half to shoot Oklahoma State into the Final Four.

Lucas' 3-pointer with 6.9 seconds left lifted the Cowboys to a thrilling 64-62 victory that ended the storybook season of top-seeded Saint Joseph's in the final of the East Rutherford Region.

Second-seeded Oklahoma State (31-3) trailed by as many as nine points in a difficult first half as Lucas struggled. He missed his first five shots, many way off target.

"I don't ever shoot airballs," Lucas said. "And I shot three in the first half."

But the transfer who fled a scandal-ridden program at Baylor found his stroke after halftime and scored 17 of his 19 points over the final 20 minutes. His jumper with 41 seconds left provided the Cowboys with a 61-59 lead.

St. Joseph's (30-2) turned to Jameer Nelson, and the All-American guard drew a double-team before finding Pat Carroll for a 3-pointer and a 62-61 lead with 29 seconds to go.

Out of timeouts, Oklahoma State calmly set up for one final shot. Lucas dribbled away some time before passing to Joey Graham in the high post. Graham returned a feed to the left wing, and Lucas nailed his 3-pointer over the outstretched arm of Tyrone Barley.

"That has to be the biggest shot I've ever had in my life," Lucas said.

Nelson had a chance for the tying basket, but pulled up instead of penetrating. His 17-footer over Daniel Bobik barely grazed the rim as time expired.

"Every time I shoot the ball, I think it is in," Nelson said. "I wouldn't shoot the ball if I didn't believe I wasn't going to make it."

Lucas grabbed the ball and hurled it into the air, punctuating Oklahoma State's first trip to the Final Four since 1995.

"I've had a lot of outstanding teams, but none that I can be as thankful that I've had the opportunity to coach (like) this ballclub," said Cowboys coach Eddie Sutton, who is searching for his first national title. "They will always be a special team for me because they have done things that I didn't think were possible."

Oklahoma State committed 10 of its 13 turnovers in the first half and was fortunate to go into halftime facing a only 33-27 deficit. Lucas blamed himself for tentative play he attributed to nerves.

"I was too excited, just ready to play," said Lucas, who received a pep talk from Sutton at the break. "I couldn't even sleep last night."

As they did in their regional semifinal win over Pittsburgh, the Cowboys picked up their offense to shoot 54 percent (14-of-26) after halftime. Graham added 12 of his 17 points in the second half to go with 11 rebounds, heating up along with Lucas.

"I just thought the speed with which they attacked, and he (Lucas) attacked in particular in the second half, was the difference," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "He liked that kind of game."

Nelson completed his career with 17 points, eight assists, eight rebounds, four steals and no turnovers. He was congratulated by several Cowboys as he sat on the floor after the final buzzer.

"We accomplished a lot of things," said Nelson, reflecting on the team's 27-0 start. "The main thing was that we defined the word team better than anyone in the country. Whatever coach asked us to do, we did or we tried to do."

Delonte West led St. Joseph's with 20 points. The Hawks, who nailed 12 3-pointers in Thursday's win over Wake Forest, were just 8-of-26 from the arc.


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