By: John Knebels
Photos: Kathy Leister & Liam Turnbach (LSCHS Jr. Reporter)
PHILADELPHIA – Jake Timby took a pass from Konrad Kiszka and drilled a long three. Zach Crisler then took a feed from Timby and swished another trey. Then Bishop McDevitt called timeout.
Just like that – just 62 seconds into the Friday night’s Catholic League semifinal – La Salle had established control of a much-anticipated match-up against the upstart Lancers.
Buoyed by balanced scoring and an aggressive defense, La Salle would ultimately defeat McDevitt, 49-41, and advance to Monday night’s Catholic League championship against top-seed and defending champion Roman Catholic.
“We were playing on our heels for a while,” said Crisler, one of four senior starters that include Kiszka, Allen Powell, and Titus Beard. “In the second half, we came together as a team.”
Except for one possession, when McDevitt junior Jamil Manigo (13 points, eight rebounds) scored from inside to give the Lancers their first and only advantage at 28-27 with 4:51 left in the second quarter, two-seed La Salle never trailed.
However, despite being ahead by 35-31 after three quarters, the Explorer players were not satisfied.
“All the time, you see us get in our huddles on the court, the five people who are playing,” said Crisler. “We just say to each other, ‘This could be it for the Catholic League. We have to leave it all out on the floor.’
“We came out in the second half and that’s what we did, and it just all came together.”
McDevitt, making its first trip to the Palestra since it lost to La Salle in the 1989 semifinals, fought to the end. Even though the three-seed Lancers endured stretches of sloppy basketball filled with turnovers and less-than-average shooting, they only trailed by 41-39 inside the final two minutes.
That’s when Kiszka, en route to a nine-point, seven-rebound evening, donned a Carson Wentz jersey– or maybe it was Nick Foles. With McDevitt pressing, Kiszka unleashed a highlight-reel, court-length pass to a streaking junior Timby, who plunked the ball through the hoop and ignited La Salle’s never-stay-quiet student section dressed in a sea of white under the basket.
“Our fans are great,” said Crisler. “Everyone was ready to go. Everyone has been talking about this for the past week. You saw those crazy guys out there in the stands. They bring an amazing amount of energy.”
McDevitt (18-6) could not respond to the momentum shift, as the Explorers (22-2) finished the contest on a 10-3 run, with six of those points coming on foul shots by Powell (10 points).
After assembling with three teammates in the Palestra press room, Crisler, who joined Timby (4 of 5 from three-point land) for high point honors with 14 while adding five rebounds and two blocks, was privately asked if there was pressure playing in such a vaunted venue.
“It’s hard to see with all those bright lights, but when there’s a timeout or something, you just take a little peek up into the stands and you see it’s just packed, and that’s awesome,” said Crisler. “It’s not really as much nervous energy as it kind of just gets you excited and ready to play ball.”
The Explorers’ next challenge will be, by far, its stiffest. Roman Catholic posted a 13-1 record and that included a 73-67 win at La Salle on February 1. The Cahillites (20-4) have won three of the past league titles. The Explorers, whose last trip to the final resulted in a lopsided loss to Roman in 1991, have not won since 1981, when they defeated West Catholic, 40-38.
According to Powell, the pace of the game will prove pivotal. He had been asked what he and his team had learned from their scary quarterfinal experience, when they trailed by 17 points entering the fourth quarter.
“It was a wake-up call,” said Powell. “You have to play well from the beginning. You can’t get behind.”
(John Knebels can be reached at Jknebels@gmail.com or on Twitter @johnknebels.)
2019 PCL Basketball Championship
Date: Monday, Feb. 25
Location: The Palestra (University of Pennsylvania)
Game 1: Girls’ Championship No. 1 Archbishop Carroll vs. No. 3 Archbishop Wood
Time: 6:30 PM
Game 2: Boys’ Championship No. 1 Roman Catholic vs. No. 2 La Salle College HS
Time: 8:30 PM