No. 17 Good Counsel passed its first major test with flying colors last night as its 1-2 combination of Nii Nelson-Richards and Kurt Small proved too much for No. 4 St. John's in a stunning 72-58 triumph in a Metro Conference opener before an overflow crowd at Good Counsel.

Nelson-Richards had 29 points, 14 of them in the final period when the Falcons (11-1) broke open a tight game. When Nelson-Richards, a senior forward, wasn't getting inside for baskets or trips to the free throw line, Small was gliding through the lane for baskets or hitting medium-range jump shots. The senior guard had nine of his 28 points in the period.

The Cadets, who breezed through December with 10 victories, lost for the first time this season.

"We needed to settle down the second half, run our offense and get the ball inside and play tougher defense," said Nelson-Richards, who also had 10 rebounds and six steals. "Coach {Joe McCall} told us this was the game we needed to really prove ourselves. Beating the fourth-ranked team in the area sure helps put us on the map."

And in the Cadets' nightmares. St. John's got splendid efforts from Warren Williams (29 points, 10 rebounds) and Kevin Gibbs (17 points), but the Falcons shut them down when they needed to.

"Warren hurt us in the second period {scoring 13 of his team's 19 points} and we had to slow him down," McCall said. "We weren't going to stop him, but we tried to front him more and push him out to the perimeter more. I think all the guys played good defense."

The Falcons took their largest lead at 50-42 before Williams sank four straight free throws and a short turnaround jump shot and Gibbs scored on a follow to make it 55-54 at 3:50.

Good Counsel then took control. Small scored on a layup and Nelson-Richards made two free throws following a Cadets turnover. Thomas Treadwell then scored off an offensive rebound, pushing Good Counsel up by six.

St. John's did not make another field goal for 3 1/2 minutes. Williams and point guard David Cox also fouled in the final minutes. Between misses, Nelson-Richards, Small and Brian Ligon sank free throws to build an 11-point cushion with 41 seconds left.

Nelson-Richards capped the game with two last-second dunks.

"The good news was we finally were able to beat a good conference team," McCall said. "We have started off good before in the preseason only to lose in the conference. The bad news is I saw DeMatha play today and they took apart a good O'Connell team {80-40}. We play them here Tuesday night."