The Hawks' run to a perfect regular season and now an appearance in the Elite Eight was always about each and every one of their guards' ability to make 3s.
Nelson, West, Pat Carroll, Tyrone Barley and Chet Stachitas were always a threat to pop a 3-pointer. The Hawks lived -- and died just once -- by the 3-pointer this season, averaging nearly 10 per game. As a group, they made 40 percent of the 725 shots they'd taken from behind the 3-point arc heading into Thursday's game.
The only Hawk to shoot under 40 percent? That would be Naismith player of the year Nelson, who shot 39 percent.
Thursday night, the Hawks made exactly half of their 3-pointers as a team, and all but Stachitas made at least one in their 84-80 victory over Wake Forest in the East Rutherford regional semifinals.
Nelson and West combined for three 3-pointers, leaving the rest of the work from behind the arc for Carroll (17 points; 5 of 7 on 3s) and Barley, whose 13 points came off four 3s and a free throw.
Yes, the Hawks lived to play another game. And now the onus shifts to Oklahoma State to stop the Hawks. At stake will be a trip to San Antonio, not to mention a chance for St. Joe's to blow up a theory that a team that relies on the 3-point shot as much as the Hawks can't get to the Final Four.
"We've been relying on it all year, and people say we live and die by the 3. But we haven't died yet," Nelson said.
"The last time we were in the Sweet 16, we didn't get many 3s against Kentucky," said Martelli, harking back to 1997 when St. Joe's lost 83-68 to the Wildcats in San Jose. "Wake went into the game not trying to take our 3 away. We went 12 for 24, and that's the way we play. That's the way we'll play Saturday."
The problem for Wake Forest quickly became whom to defend. When the Demon Deacons chose to help off on Nelson or West, they got burned by Barley and Carroll, who hit one open jumper after another.
"If you try and defend it, someone else pops out," Wake Forest guard Justin Gray said. "You can't hope that they miss. You've got to stop them.
"Teams better recognize that it's not just West and Nelson. You've got to recognize those other guys."
Teams advance to the Elite Eight by leaning on their stars. Oklahoma State got 23 points from senior guard Tony Allen. The Big 12 player of the year was the only double-figure scorer for the Cowboys. Sure, Nelson and West scored 24 apiece for Saint Joseph's. But the Hawks don't win if it weren't for Carroll and Barley, too. Each made the 3s that mattered most, while their defense kept the Demon Deacons' guards at bay.
"Some people like to pound the ball inside," Barley said. "We like to take the 3, rather than the 2. If you're going to just guard Delonte and Jameer one-on-one, you'll have to pick your poison."
Carroll had eight boards, which isn't bad for a 6-5, 190-pound wing who usually can be found floating around the perimeter, not banging in the paint. Barley, meanwhile, made ACC freshman of the year Chris Paul disappear at times, limiting the point guard to just six shots and 12 points -- less than half of what Paul averaged in two NCAA wins last week.
"We've got guys ready for this opportunity," Carroll said. "Jameer and Delonte are so unselfish."
"Pat Carroll is deadly out there, and Barley did a great job on Chris Paul and also knocked down shots," West said. "You can't collapse on us because we'll find the open man."
Expect Oklahoma State to do a better job defensively Saturday. Bigger, stronger and more physical, guards such as Allen, Joey Graham as well as John Lucas, Daniel Bobik and Janavor Weatherspoon are likely to be closer than the arm's length at which Wake Forest chose to play the Hawks on Thursday. If the Cowboys do body up the Hawks, Martelli knows his backcourt will have to be just as active. But he doesn't expect anything less.
"This hasn't been a two-man team all year," Martelli said. "Everyone thinks that way. Everyone expects your best players to play well in this game. But we had other guys make 3s for us, too."
The scene in the postgame locker room was somewhat indicative of this St. Joe's season.
The first two players who were made available to the media in the locker room were forwards John Bryant and Dwayne Jones. Both could have been invisible, as far as the media were concerned. The horde was looking for the guards, who couldn't be found. Some were at the podium at the news conference. A few others were going through the random postgame drug testing.
Jones and Bryant -- two more role players -- know this team hasn't been about them this season. The guards rule this team. It has been this way for two seasons -- four seasons, actually, if you count Nelson's freshman year when Marvin O'Connor led the Hawks to the NCAA's second round. And it's not just about Nelson and West in 2004. The Hawks won't fly past Saturday without another flock of contributors.
St. Joe's will need the spot-up 3s from Barley, Carroll and maybe even Stachitas to beat the Cowboys. The strength of this team is actually its perimeter shooting depth, not just its two star guards named Nelson and West. The big shots, mostly on 3s, came from four different players Thursday. That's the way the Hawks want to win, almost need to win to get to the Final Four.
"Teams focus on me and Delonte too much," Nelson said.
And, "When you've got the defense focusing on them too much, it's much easier for all of us to get and find a shot," Barley said.
And, Thursday night, enough 3s went in to beat Wake Forest. Victim No. 30 for a team who'll be happy to take 30 or more 3s to be one of the four ticketed to San Antonio.
Andy Katz is a senior writer at ESPN.com.