These days, there is no such thing as a meaningless Atlantic 10 game.

The standings don't lie. You go on even a modest win streak and you can make a major move.

Now that the conference tournament is only 3 weeks away, the jockeying for position obviously has taken on even more urgency. In a perfect world, you want to get one of the four opening-round byes. One fewer game can never be a bad thing, especially in a league that looks as if, at least for the time being, it will send only one team to the NCAAs. Again.

Anyway, Saint Joseph's has lost in the title game in each of the last two seasons. Last March, it was by a point, to Xavier, in Cincinnati. It was the Hawks' fourth game in 4 days. That doesn't mean it can't be done. Just ask Xavier. The Musketeers did it in 2004. History suggests, however, that you wouldn't want to make a habit of that.

Which brings us to last night's tussle at the Fieldhouse. St. Joe's against George Washington. Both teams tied for that all-important fourth spot, with the clock running out. Isn't that what mid-February is supposed to be all about?

The regular-season crown isn't even out of the question. Then again, so is a double-digit seed. That's what can happen when there is not much separation in the ranks.

The Hawks were trying to post back-to-back wins for the first time since early January. The Colonials were out to break a three-game losing steak, the wrong kind of consistency.

One streak is history, while the other lives on. St. Joe's, 62-56. The Hawks (15-10, 7-4) are alone in fourth. The Colonials (15-8, 6-5), who host Temple Saturday, fall into what feels like a 32-way tie for sixth. There is a difference.

"For the first time, we talked to the team about [the standings]," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "We've never done that before. I'm not convinced it's the right thing to do. But you continue to look at how you keep their attention. That's the significance of every game.

"All you can do is look in the bag and say, 'What haven't we done? Let's try this.'

"After the Saint Louis game [a 73-62 loss on Feb. 1], I asked them what it meant and got, like, eight different answers," Martelli added. "If they're not into it, what are they into? They're on the computers all the time. Don't they go to ESPN or to see? Now, I think they have an understanding. But you've got to tell them every day.

"All they could ever want is still out there [for them]. My only goal is to be better tomorrow. But what's gone? The [regular-season] title can still be had. There's a lot of things."

The Hawks, who visit St. Bonaventure Saturday, trailed 52-49 with a little more than 5 minutes left. Pat Calathes made a free throw, his 38th straight, to break Delonte West's school record. He missed the second. But Ahmad Nivens got the rebound and made an old-fashioned three-point play. The Hawks never trailed again. A trey by Jawan Carter made it a four-point game. The lead became seven with 2:37 showing. Did we mention the Hawks have lost four games in which they held the lead with 6 minutes to go?

Not this time. The Colonials got to within three, with 2 minutes left, with the help of three straight St. Joe's turnovers. They didn't score again.

"[Assistant] coach [Mark] Bass kept bringing it up," said Calathes, who finished with a game-high 17 points. "We've been here before. The last time, [GW] came out and stomped us. I think we're more mature now. When we make turnovers, we [come back and] make stops. Before, we kind of dropped our heads . . .

"The record's nice, but it wouldn't have meant anything if we'd lost. Being in the same category as Delonte in anything is nice."

The Hawks had lost at GW on Jan. 24, by nine, in a game they led most of the way. This time, they jumped on top again, 15-6, after 6 1/2 minutes. The Colonials responded with an 18-3 run, and went into the break holding a 32-31 edge.

Nivens, St. Joe's leading scorer, had as many points (three) as turnovers at that point, which usually isn't a good sign. And GW's Damian Hollis was 3-for-4 from the arc, which wouldn't seem like such a big deal if he hadn't made only eight three-pointers the rest of the season.

Nivens ended up with nine points and eight rebounds. The Hawks got 16 points from Chester graduate Darrin Govens, in his second start.

The Colonials got 14 points apiece from Hollis (career high) and Philly's Maureece Rice.

"I'm not satisfied," Martelli said of his young squad. "I haven't seen near enough growth. We continue to go up and down. We've got five games left. This is it." *