No. 25 St. Joseph’s 68, La Salle 48

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DAYTON, Ohio (AP)—Nothing can give a team breathing room like a few well-timed 3-pointers.

Pat Carroll hit three of them early in the second half Thursday night, getting No. 25 St. Joseph’s to finally relax and pull away to a 68-48 victory over La Salle in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

St. Joseph’s (23-5) reached the semifinals for the 11th time in 20 seasons by playing stingy defense and settling down after Carroll’s shots went in. The Hawks will face No. 22 Dayton, a 74-57 winner over Rhode Island.

“In the first half, there was a lot of non-breathing,” coach Phil Martelli said. “I was afraid a couple of our guys were going to turn blue because they were so nervous.

“It’s a young team. As the day went longer, I could feel a little tension, a little tightness. We haven’t been that way all year.”

Carroll gave them a second wind by doing what he’s done all year—hitting long-range shots.

Carroll, one of the nation’s most accurate 3-point shooters, made three of them during a 15-3 spurt that put the Hawks in control early in the second half. He swished one from the left wing to start the spurt, then finished it off with one from the top of the key and another from the left wing.

“In the first half, it seemed like we were a little nervous,” said Carroll, who was 4-of-8 from behind the arc. “Our defense picked up in the second half, and that’s what got us going.”

La Salle (12-17) shot only 33 percent from the field as the Hawks held an opponent under 50 points for the eighth time this season. The Hawks have the conference’s top defense, giving up an average of only 59 points per game.

“You can only go down and play good defense so long without getting a reward at the other end,” La Salle coach Billy Hahn said.

Jameer Nelson led the Hawks with 15 points, and Carroll added 14. Gary Neal and Jermaine Thomas had 13 apiece for La Salle.

Delonte West returned to the Hawks’ lineup after missing two games with a stress fracture in his lower right leg and scored nine points, all in the first half.

The sophomore guard crouched under the basket in severe pain after he was fouled on a drive to the basket in the second half, and watched the ending from the bench.

Martelli said West could have gone back in, but there was no need because St. Joseph’s was pulling away.

“It will be the same thing tomorrow night,” Martelli said. “The doctors recommend playing him in spurts and then resting him. He certainly gave us a boost in the first half.”

West, who forms one of the country’s top guard tandems with Nelson, has missed three games overall with the injury. He moved tentatively when he got into the game at 15:23 of the first half, then reminded the Hawks of what they’ve been missing.

West, who averages 18.5 points, was badly off-target on his first shot, and walked gingerly to the bench at the next timeout. A few minutes later, he made two close-up shots in a row—no small feat in a first half of ugly shooting.

With three minutes left before halftime, both teams were shooting under 30 percent from the field.

La Salle had its only good stretch at the outset, a seven-point run on its way to a 12-5 lead. Thomas hit a pair of 3-pointers—the Explorers’ only 3s of the half—during the spurt.

Finding confidence in his shot, West hit a 3-pointer and scored off a drive to put the Hawks ahead. Dwayne Lee’s driving scoop shot just before the buzzer made it 28-23 at halftime.

West was on the bench as La Salle tied it at 28 early in the second half on David Bell’s two free throws. That’s when Carroll broke the game open from long range.

Carroll, who makes 48.6 percent of his 3-point attempts, started the 15-3 spurt with his 3, then made a pull-up jumper and consecutive 3s that pushed the lead to 43-31.

The conference’s toughest defense took it from there, preventing the Explorers from getting closer than seven the rest of the way. St. Joseph’s put together a 13-point run that built the lead to 58-38.

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