FOR A DECADE, Saint Joseph's basketball has been an unstated star system. The names are familiar - Marvin O'Connor, Jameer Nelson. Delonte West, Pat Carroll, Pat Calathes and Ahmad Nivins. It was a universe of players with a star or stars at its center.

When this season began, it surely looked as if there were no stars on this team. There were veteran players who had success, but no individual who was transcendent.

Late in the second game of a season that is less predictable than any Hawks season in memory, a player standing 5-11, weighing 155 pounds and playing in only his second college game chose to take center stage.

St. Joe's had led Holy Cross for 31 minutes. Then, as the game headed into the final 2 minutes, after the Crusaders had scored seven points in 75 seconds to get a tie, the Hagan Arena crowd was somewhere between edgy and confused.

Freshman guard Carl Jones showed no fear. He wanted the ball. He was not afraid to fail. And he didn't.

He got into the lane and dropped in an on-the move floater. When his man, Andrew Beinert, scored at the other end, Jones attacked again, was fouled and dropped in two free throws.

After two Crusaders misses sandwiched around a St. Joe's miss, Jones held the ball in the backcourt, waiting to get fouled.

He went to the foul line with 15.4 seconds left and calmly dropped in the two shots that would be the winning margin after Holy Cross scored in the final second.

St. Joe's (2-0) will not go unbeaten, after winning Opening Night in overtime against Drexel and last night, 69-67. But winning is winning.

"This kid's got a big ticker," St. Joe's coach Phil Martelli said. "The thing that guys at the end of games have to be willing to do is they have to be willing to miss a shot.

"Not just take a shot, they have to be willing to miss a shot. And he is willing to do that. That bodes well."

Jones, who came off the bench, finished with a game-high 18, including those six at the finish. If it looked as if he wanted the ball, it was because he wanted the ball.

"When [Devin Brown] hit the three in the corner to tie the game, there was a lot of emotions going through the whole team," Jones said.

So, Jones came with that floater.

"I've always been little, so I had to find different shots to get over the big men," Jones said.

And, yes, he did want to get fouled at the end.

"I always want the ball in my hand at the end of the game," he said. "If I'm going to lose the game, I want to lose the game. I want to be held accountable for it, even as a freshman."

The freshman from the Cleveland area has gained 10 pounds since he arrived on campus, all the way to 155.

"He's nuts, really," Martelli said. "He has a swagger that you would swear like Bernard Hopkins has just walked into the room."

Playing against senior point guard Garrett Williamson in practice really helped Jones get ready for college defenses.

"He's playing big for us," Williamson said. "I just try to push guys in practice, really get up in them."

Holy Cross (0-2) stayed in the game, even though its best offense was the missed shot. The Crusaders had 22 offensive rebounds and 28 second-chance points, and killed the Hawks on the glass, 50-33.

"We got walloped on the glass," Martelli said. "That is grave cause for concern."

Holy Cross is coached by Cardinal O'Hara grad Sean Kearney. After stints as an assistant at Delaware and Notre Dame, among other places, Kearney got his first head-coaching job when Ralph Willard left to become Rick Pitino's assistant at Louisville.

That his second game was at home meant something special.

"To look around here and see people you've known forever," Kearney said. "My own family is here. To see Mr. Martelli [Phil's father] and just all these familiar faces, it's really nice."

Sophomore center Todd O'Brien had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks. St. Joe's had five players scoring from seven to 11 points. They survived a second poor shooting game by senior Darrin Govens. In two games, Govens is only 9-for-31.

"I am a shooter," Govens said. "I will continue to take them."

The St. Joe's team left the arena about 7 hours before its scheduled 4 a.m. departure for the airport on the way to the Virgin Islands for this weekend's Paradise Jam. The Hawks open Friday with Boston College.

Some of the shortcomings, Martelli said, will be reviewed tonight in the Virgin Islands.

"Sounds a little strange to be talking about reviewing games in the Virgin Islands," Martelli said. "Somebody's got to do it. You could go to Newark or the Virgin Islands. We chose the Virgin Islands." *