By: Josh Abrams
Olney, Philadelphia -- Conference play carried on in the Atlantic-10 over the weekend, as the La Salle Explorers hosted the Saint Joseph's Hawks on Saturday afternoon. A rematch from MLK Day, the Blue & Gold were looking to avenge their 82-62 loss at Hawk Hill.
In a much more competitive second contest, it was the Hawks who prevailed by a score of 88-82, mostly thanks to a 50-point second half that completely flipped the script and erased any momentum La Salle had built in the first 30 minutes of game time.
Erik Reynolds II paced St. Joe's offensively with 21 points on an efficient 7-13 FG shooting, including five made treys. Rasheer Fleming and Christ Essandoko each finished one rebound shy of a double-double to go along with their 17 & 16 points, respectively.
It seemed as if such efforts from the Hawks would not be enough, considering the Explorers' lead had gotten out to as large as 12 approaching midway through the second half.
Insert Lynn Greer III.
The sophomore guard's performance in this game completes the story of how it changed. He scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half and also grabbed a game-high 10 rebounds, securing his second double-double of the season and fifth of his collegiate career.
With 10:45 remaining in the game, and La Salle leading 64-52 after Jhamir Brickus' floater extended the Explorers' lead, St. Joe's head coach Billy Lange called a timeout to regroup his guys. And regroup, did they ever.
From there, the Hawks outscored the Explorers 36-18. Immediately following the timeout, St. Joe's used a full-court press to help mess up the flow of what was a scorching-hot Explorers offense. Greer, who struggled for a majority of the game to get anything going on offense, grabbed his own miss and converted a putback layup to help spark a 9-0 run. It happened seemingly in the blink of an eye. 76 seconds is all it took for Joe's to cut La Salle's lead to three, 64-61.
"It was really just stick to our principles, stick to what we practice in practice and just play hard," said Greer when asked what was said in the huddle during the under-12 media timeout. "They (La Salle) were making really tough shots in the first half, and coming into the second half we just knew we had to help each other out... and just flow into our offense."
Those tough shots Greer referenced propelled La Salle to their early outburst; the Explorers made nine of their 14 threes in the first half on 20 attempts, good for 45%.
Brickus finished with 24 points on 8-13 shooting including six triples, and was on 'triple-double watch' with eight rebounds and eight assists (zero turnovers). The trio of Khalil Brantley, Rokas Jocius and Andres Marrero chipped in with 15 points apiece. Tunde Vahlberg Fasasi stuffed the stat sheet on defense, recording four steals and two blocks. It's a losing effort that would result in a win in most other games; Lange knows given how immerse the talent level is in the conference.
"The A-10 is loaded with good players... it's a really good league that deserves a lot of recognition, and La Salle is one of those teams," said Lange. "That backcourt, when they got it cookin', are as hard to cover as any team we've played all season. So to have a victory today is impressive; to do it the way we did it after having been victorious the last time we played them is even more impressive... we earned this victory today."
La Salle did not instantly fold after the first push from St. Joe's. After Reynolds II's three cut it to 64-61, a pair of free throws from Jocius and a three from Brickus brought the Explorers' lead back up to eight.
22 seconds later, however, Cameron Brown canned a trey for the Hawks, kickstarting a 12-0 run that, this time, effectively put La Salle away.
"We were in decent shape there, midway through the second half, and then we made some poor choices," explained Explorer head coach Fran Dunphy. "St. Joe's drove it at us and finished at the rim a couple of times; we needed to keep people in front of us better than that. On the offensive end we needed to have more poise, (we had) a couple of poor passes against the pressure."
One of the over-arching themes for this La Salle basketball team is their margin for error; it couldn't be any smaller than what it has been this season. The loss drops their overall record to .500 (11-11) and their 2-7 mark in the conference puts them second to last. The team behind them, Saint Louis, comes to North Philly on Wednesday evening.
St. Joe's improves to 15-7 on the season with a 5-4 record in A-10 play, tied with UMass for fifth. Their biggest test of the conference slate comes on Tuesday night when 21st-ranked Dayton visits Hagan Arena.
"They're a really good basketball team," said Dunphy. "We gave them opportunities and they took advantage of it. Tough loss for us, good win for St. Joe's."