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March 11, 2006

Xavier is dancing with 62-61 win

CINCINNATI - Down to its last 5.1 seconds, a Xavier team given up for lost only a month ago found its way to the NCAA tournament.

Justin Doellman made two free throws with 5.1 seconds left, and Xavier blocked Dwayne Lee's last two shots, holding on for a 62-61 victory over Saint Joseph's for the Atlantic 10 tournament championship Saturday.

Doellman blocked Lee's driving layup out of bounds with 1.3 seconds left, and Justin Cage swatted away Lee's jumper at the buzzer, bringing hundreds of Xavier fans onto the floor for an unexpected celebration.

Xavier (21-10) became the first team in Division I history to pull off an improbable feat for the second time - winning four games in four days for a tournament title. The Musketeers also did it in 2004 for their last NCAA appearance.

Saint Joseph's (18-13) wasted a 10-point lead in the final 7 minutes, losing the A10 title game for the second straight year.

The wild finish featured Xavier blocking five of Saint Joseph's last six shots. Chet Stachitas led the Hawks with 23 points, and the nation's best free-throw shooting team went 24-of-27 from the line. But in the end, Xavier's two free throws and two swats pulled it out.

Cage led Xavier with 19 points and three blocked shots.

The tournament was wide-open after the top four seeds, including No. 6 George Washington, all lost in the quarterfinals. At No. 10, Xavier was the lowest seed to reach an A10 final.

The A10 tournament had turned into a dead-end for Saint Joseph's in recent years.

The Hawks were ranked No. 1 and undefeated in 2004, when Xavier beat them by 20 points in the quarterfinals at Dayton. Both teams went on to the NCAA tournament's final eight.

Last year, Saint Joseph's lost to George Washington in the A10 title game, costing the Hawks an NCAA berth.

Feeding off the energy of the hometown crowd, Xavier put together a 16-2 run midway through the first half. Cage had a 3-pointer, dunk and layup during the run, which featured baskets from five players and put the Musketeers ahead 20-7.

During a timeout, Saint Joseph's pulled itself together. The defense toughened, forcing three consecutive turnovers, and the Hawks started using their height advantage. Six-foot-10 forward Pat Calathes - taller than anyone on Xavier's front line - made three consecutive baskets during a 13-0 run that tied it at 20.

Josh Duncan's 3-pointer with 34 seconds left put Xavier ahead 26-23 at the end of a first half that was nearly dead-even in most ways.

After a loosely officiated first half - five free throws combined - Saint Joseph's decided to force the issue and draw fouls. Eleven of its first 16 points in the second half came on free throws.

Rob Ferguson's three-point play sparked a 7-0 run that gave Saint Joseph's its first lead since the opening minutes, 44-41, with 9:41 to go.

Saint Joseph's made six consecutive free throws, and Ferguson's 3-pointer completed a 12-2 spurt that gave the Hawks their biggest lead, 56-46, with 7:19 to go.

Consecutive 3s by Stanley Burrell started Xavier's comeback, and Cage's inside basket tied it at 59 with 1:45 to go and set up the wild finish.

Ferguson's 10-foot jumper gave Saint Joseph's a one-point lead with 14 seconds to go. Doellman was fouled hard as he drove to the hoop, then made two free throws with 5.1 seconds left and, then, the first of the two critical blocks.

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