SAN DIEGO -- Stanford and Cincinnati will head up the freeway and into the NCAA regionals, finally, while gutty little St. Joseph's goes home to Philadelphia, having lost a game but gained a following.
In slugging it out as long as they did against Stanford's three-time Pac-10 champs Saturday night before losing 90-83, the ninth-seeded Hawks and junior guard Marvin O'Connor earned the affection of fans from both coasts.
The emotional game will be remembered for a long time.
"That was a shining example of what this tournament is supposed to be about," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said after consoling his heartbroken players.
O'Connor came close to ruining top-seeded Stanford's season, matching his career-high with 37 points, 29 of them in the second half. He hit five clutch 3-pointers as St. Joe's raced back from 10 points down to take a five-point lead with 8:25 to go.
But Stanford being Stanford, the Cardinal regained the lead. And with St. Joe's trailing 86-83, O'Connor fouled out with 11.9 seconds left.
He squatted in disbelief in the key, holding his head in his right hand. As he walked to the bench, the crowd of 11,091 at San Diego State's Cox Arena stood and cheered.
St. Joe's fans led chants of "Mar-vin! Mar-vin! Mar-vin!" Even the crazies in the Stanford band, whose leader was dressed as a leprechaun in honor of St. Patrick's Day, recognized that O'Connor had done something pretty special.
"In a microcosm, they were responding to our whole team," Martelli said of the rousing ovation. "I think the acknowledgment of Marvin was an acknowledgment of the five kids who had St. Joe's on their uniforms and put it out there.
"The crowd saw college basketball the way college basketball is supposed to be, not RPIs and seedings. That was real, pure college basketball."
Martelli said there was a lot of raw emotion in the locker room afterward.
"They were very, very sad," he said. "As you well know, I wear my emotions on my sleeve and it wasn't easy for me to be the adult in there and to try to pick up as many people as fell apart in there."
O'Connor, who scored 18 points in the final minute of a 91-90 loss to La Salle on March 3, appreciated the ovation. Like Martelli, he said his teammates deserved some attention, too.
"It's just so hard, because we go out every night and we give our all like everybody else in America, but we don't get the kind of exposure and notoriety that everyone else gets," O'Connor said.
"I mean, there are over 300 teams in Division I basketball, and you don't even hear of half of them. I just think that everybody should get that chance, and I just appreciate the applause I got when I came out."
With only 3,450 students, St. Joe's of the Atlantic 10 Conference was the second-smallest school in the NCAA field. The Hawks finished 26-7, one win short of breaking the school record.
Their other guard, freshman Jameer Nelson, scored 14 points and missed a triple-double by just one rebound and one assist.
Cincinnati (25-9) and Stanford (30-2) will meet in the West Regional semifinals on Thursday in Anaheim.
As much grief as the Cardinal have taken for losing in the second round the last two years, the Bearcats endured four straight years of losing to lower-seeded teams in the second round.
Steve Logan, who teams with Kenny Satterfield to give the Bearcats a dynamic backcourt, was around for two of those defeats.
"We were tired of everybody saying we couldn't get past the second round," Logan said after helping the Bearcats overwhelm No. 13 Kent State 66-43. "It was real personal and emotional for me to get this win. I wanted this win real bad."
Coach Bob Huggins, who spent a good deal of the game screaming at his players, hugged them afterward.
This is the youngest and most inexperienced of Huggins' 12 teams at Cincinnati.
"You know, when you walk out with `Cincinnati' on your chest, I think everybody, at least in our town, expects us to win," said Huggins, whose team started 3-3 in Conference USA play. "We struggled and they took some criticism. I'm just real happy for them. They've come a long, long way."
Cardinal coach Mike Montgomery knows Stanford faces another tough game because of the Bearcats' guards and their physical frontcourt.
But he's pleased with the way the Cardinal took St. Joe's best shot and responded.
"If you look back at any team that has advanced, they have games like this one," Montgomery said. "I told the kids that they deserved to play next week and now we get to."
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