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COLLEGE BASKETBALL: Saint Joseph's Women, Men Complete MLK Day Sweep Over La Salle

By Josh Abrams (@jabrams1998). Photos: Ryan Nix & Lennie Malmgren, 01/18/24, 8:30PM EST


By: Josh Abrams 

Photos: Ryan Nix & Lennie Malmgren


Hawk Hill, Philadelphia – The campus of Saint Joseph’s University was the site of an eventful MLK Monday, as the women and men’s basketball teams played host to their cross-city rivals located 15 minutes north of them, La Salle University. 

The doubleheader resulted in the host Hawks sweeping the visiting Explorers; the women winning by a score of 64-39, and the men pulling away late in the second half, 82-62.

Brugler, Ziegler's Efficient Day Leads Way for Female Hawks

Cindy Griffin’s team is doing things the program has not seen in a very long time. The Female Hawks head coach’s group of girls won their 16th game on Monday afternoon, and have lost just two games on the season. They were not going to let Monday afternoon be their third. Junior forward Talya Brugler poured in a game-high 26 points on an extremely efficient 11-12 FG shooting, while sophomore forward Laura Ziegler turned in a stellar, all-around performance with 16 points (7-11 FG), 16 rebounds and six assists.

With the win, St. Joe’s captures the Big-5 outright city championship, going undefeated against fellow Philly schools for the first time since the 2013-14 season.

Their 16-2 start is the best under Griffin’s tenure, and despite La Salle falling to 6-11 with the loss, the former Female Hawk herself was aware of what was at stake. 

“(I’m) really proud of these guys. Today marks not only the Big-5 Championship, but also part of our journey that we’re on with this team,” said the SJU leader in her 23rd season. “It was one of their goals this year; to win the Big-5, and to be able to win it outright is a great feeling. Very proud of our players for winning on the road, winning at home and taking care of business. We stayed together today; we did some really great things sharing the ball and having each other’s back defensively, it was incredible.” 

Ziegler, who originally hails from Denmark, has quickly adapted to understanding just how important the Big-5 is to the city and the schools in particular who compete against each other. 

“Especially having girls like Gabby Casey (Lansdale Catholic) and Aleah Snead (Penn Charter) coming in this year who are from (Philly), we know it means a lot.” the 6’2” forward said. “We have a coaching staff where a lot of them played in the Big-5 schools… and from the moment you step in here you learn about Philly basketball.”

Three pointer from La Salle's Emilee Tahata followed with and-one layup by St. Joe's Talya Brugler (Video/Josh Abrams)

La Salle's Gabby Turco drains three, Female Hawks dominate offensive glass on other end and draw foul (Video/Josh Abrams)

After a Chloe Welch triple put Joe’s up 8-5, Brugler went on to score the next six points and help extend the Hawks' run to 12-0, giving her double digit scoring in the first quarter. Dominant doesn’t do her enough justice, when she missed her lone shot of the game she grabbed her own miss and scored on the second chance. She has scored in double-digits in 38 of 42 games against A-10 competition and notched her 13th straight such feat. 

Second quarter highlights from La Salle/St. Joe's women's game (Video/Josh Abrams)

Turco converts layup, Joe's Julia Nystrom banks in three at the buzzer to extend Hawks' lead (Video/Josh Abrams)

“I just try to get to the open area where my teammates can find me,” said the junior from Nazareth, PA. “Trying to open up the seams and get into open spots. (The ball movement of the team) was very helpful for me, especially because (La Salle) was fronting us inside, so the more we were getting the ball reversed around the horn, the easier it was for me to get positioning inside and that was what worked best for us.”

Opening statement from St. Joe's WBB HC Cindy Griffin, comments from players Talya Brugler & Laura Ziegler who led the charge against La Salle (Video/Josh Abrams)

La Salle WBB HC Mountain MacGillivray offers his thoughts postgame after loss to St. Joe's (Video/Josh Abrams)

More postgame discussion with MacGillivray following tough loss on the road at St. Joe's (Video/Josh Abrams)

Postgame discussion with St. Joe's HC Cindy Griffin & players Talya Brugler, Laura Ziegler (Video/Josh Abrams)

Though the score does not indicate it, La Salle hung tough with St. Joe’s through the first three quarters, including just a three point deficit at halftime (22-19). They received solid and productive efforts from junior forward Emilee Tahata (12 points on 5-6 FG) and graduate student guard Makayla Miller (14 points, three assists and three steals). 


La Salle had won their last three games coming into the contest, but head coach Mountain MacGillivray knew the opponent for this one would be much tougher despite the level of familiarity with St. Joe’s. 


“I liked where we were for most of the game,” the sixth-year Explorer head coach said. “But (St. Joe’s) made plays. That’s what good teams do… Talya is a special player. We knew that, and I thought we contained her but when we had to change the pace to try to win… that gave her a lot of opportunities to eat our lunch.”

The fourth quarter could not have gone any differently for both teams; the Female Hawks scored 21 points on 8-12 shooting while the Lady Explorers recorded just seven points on two made field goals (out of 14 attempts). It was a comforting development for the Hawk Hill faithful who were in attendance, and the nation got to see it on display as CBS Sports Network was on-site to cover the game. 


The sight was a pleasant one; for Griffin and company to play a game in front of a raucous crowd mostly supporting them, it’s something she doesn’t take lightly, or for granted. 


“I know (the field hockey team) was here, I know men’s lacrosse was here,” Griffin said. “I think we got a huge stop and they were right under our basket… Laura comes down and hits a three, and it was electric… Those things matter, and I think for our players to play in front of their peers is really special because they spend a lot of time supporting each other.”

Brown, Reynolds Pace Balanced Scoring Attack for Joe's in Victory versus La Salle

Following the women’s contest was the men, who used a steady offensive output to beat the Explorers. Freshman guard Xzayvier Brown scored a game-high 19 points on 5-9 shooting overall (including 4-6 from three and a perfect 5-5 at the line), while sophomore guard Erik Reynolds II added 15 points, three assists and three rebounds.

Entering the contest, St. Joe’s had lost their first three conference games by just a combined 10 points. On the other hand, La Salle was struggling as well, having dropped four of their last five before taking on the Hawks.

A fast start for St. Joe's, particularly a 19-2 outburst to begin the game, left La Salle at an immediate and constant disadvantage. The Explorers connected on three consecutive triples to trim the deficit to eight but the sequence of events to get things going was a symbol to how the next 35-or-so minutes would play out. 

"Congrats to the St. Joe's group, I thought they played well," expressed Explorer HC Fran Dunphy. "(They) made shots early, we obviously got ourselves in a hole early on, which didn't help us. We fought back, got it to 13 at the end of the half... got it to nine at one point. We needed to make great decisions down that stretch; we probably didn't... but I like their team, I thought they did a great job." 

La Salle's dynamic backcourt duo of Khalil Brantley and Jhamir Brickus has been a force all season long. But when the latter exited early after taking an inadvertent elbow from Reynolds, redshirt sophomore Andres Marrero came in off the bench right away and provided an offensive spark with 15 points, including three treys. 

Baskets from X. Brown, Rasheer Fleming for St. Joe's; Brantley for La Salle in first half action (Video/Josh Abrams)

Explorer HC Fran Dunphy gives his thoughts following team's loss at St. Joe's (Video/Josh Abrams)

"He's a terrific guy," said Dunphy of his shooting guard from Caracas. "(He) made some tough shots. He was ready to go, and he always is... So I'm proud of 'Dre and how he plays. I'm confident he'll have a good rest of the year." 

St. Joe's HC Billy Lange gives opening statement after team picks up first Atlantic-10 win of the season (Video/Josh Abrams)

Explorers and Hawks battling it out in the second half of MLK Day clash (Video/Josh Abrams)

Both teams could have used the win; St. Joe's desperately needed this one, however, after surprisngly losing their first three contests in Atlantic 10 play. Hawks HC Billy Lange explained what went in his teams' favor and led to the limiting of the Explorer attack on both sides of the ball. 

"We've been in this situation before where we've played these guys and their defensive pressure with (Brickus) and Brantley has really bothered us," said Lange. "So to be able to have both (Brown) and (Lynn Greer III)... it helps. 'X' is a winner, as is Lynn. These guys come from one of the best high school programs in the history of high school basketball (both played at Roman Catholic). There's really nothing that the kid does that surprises me. I love him, and I love coaching him; it's an honor to coach him." 

It might not have been an official Big-5 game. But it was a city clash, and since Xzayvier had not yet experienced winning an Atlantic-10 game, Monday afternoon was a huge step in his playing career. 

"(Conference play) is definitely different," Brown said. "You can just tell it's more physical. I remember our first game at Rhode Island just felt like a war. Not trying to say non-conference is easier, but you just feel that intensity of the game."

St. Joe's outscored La Salle 40-33 in the second half, maintaining their 13 point halftime lead and eventually extending it as time ticked away. For the game, the Hawks outshot the Explorers 51 percent to 36 percent overall and out-rebounded them 45-24. 

St. Joe's Head Coach Billy Lange reflects on game and gives credit to the backcourt duo of Brickus/Brantley for La Salle (Video/Josh Abrams)

St. Joe's players Erik Reynolds II & Xzayvier Brown provide their insight on what went well for the Hawks against the Explorers (Video/Josh Abrams)

With the victory, St. Joe's improves to 11-6 overall and, most importantly, gets their first win in Atlantic-10 play. The Hawks cap their three-game homestand on Saturday afternoon when they host Duquesne. 

La Salle falls to 10-8 overall and 1-4 in the A-10. They have a long layoff until their next game (next Tuesday, 1/23) but the level of opponent certainly does not get easier. The Dayton Flyers recently received national recognition from the Associated Press and USA Today Coaches Poll, coming in at 21st & 23rd, respectively.