La Salle Explorers

La Salle, Penn learn a lot about itself after exhausting 2OT affair

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La Salle, Penn learn a lot about itself after exhausting 2OT affair

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For all those in attendance at the Palestra, Monday’s game was a show. It was everything you’d want in a Big 5 game, really, with two rivals trading big shots and, as is the case in most city games, even bigger defensive stops through regulation and overtime and then another overtime.

But more than anything else, it was a test — a perfect early-season gauge on where both Penn and La Salle might stand for the rest of its non-league slates and into conference play.

And the Explorers, especially, felt like they passed it with flying colors after a 75-71 double-overtime victory over the host Quakers (see observations).

“Last year we wouldn’t have won this game,” La Salle star swingman B.J. Johnson said. “We probably would have lost by a lot.”

La Salle certainly dealt with its share of struggles during a 15-15 campaign last season, and even more the season before that when it went 9-22. The Explorers lost to the Quakers in each of those two seasons (after previously beating them eight straight times), and were victimized by Penn post players scoring over 30 on them in both contests.

The team’s growth could not have been more evident this season as it held Penn’s AJ Brodeur, who torched the Explorers for 35 last year, to only 12 points and zero field goal attempts after halftime.

When you combine that with the fact it held Penn to 33.8 percent shooting just two days after allowing only 40 points to Saint Peter’s, the early signs are in: La Salle has all the makings of being an excellent defensive team with the kind of grit head coach John Giannini craves.

“It’s a shame someone had to lose that game,” Giannini said. “Both teams left absolutely every ounce of energy and effort they had in their bodies out there in court. There are many things for us to be pleased about. First and foremost, we’re trying to be a good defensive team so we can win games when we don’t click offensively. We didn’t click offensively today and we still won. To hold Penn to 33 percent from the field is going to be quite an accomplishment when you look back on this season. I don’t think many people are going to do that.”

Penn certainly has enough offensive weapons to worry opposing coaches, with Brodeur and classmate Ryan Betley at the top of that list. Both sophomores played 46 minutes but combined to take a modest 19 shots with Betley, an absolute sniper from distance, connecting on only two three-pointers.

For that, the credit goes to La Salle senior Amar Stukes, a Philly native who made the most of his last of many appearances at the Palestra by bottling up Betley and then erupting for eight points in the second overtime to seal the win.

“It was inspirational to watch,” Giannini said. “As a coach, to see one of our guys play with that kind of effort on both ends brings tremendous pride. I couldn’t be me more proud of him. It’s so great to see him, as he gets older, assert his will on the game the way he’s doing this year.”

For his part, Stukes said he tried to be more aggressive offensively in the second overtime after Johnson fouled out. And he admitted he tried to “stay attached” to Betley every time he caught the ball, crediting Giannini with how much defense has been a priority after so many struggles in that department last season.

“Since the offseason, he’s been stressing how we have to be one of the best defensive teams in the Atlantic 10 if we’re gonna be good,” Stukes said. “Our defense is the main focus this year.”

Penn head coach Steve Donahue noticed La Salle’s stark defensive improvement from last year. And he was also pleased with his own team’s defense and grittiness while similarly bemoaning the lack of offensive execution, particularly late in the game when it had chances to make game-winning shots.

“In a lot of ways, I thought it was a classic Big 5 game,” Donahue said. “It was fun to be a part of. Both teams know each other well. In some ways, I thought we played well enough to win. In other ways, we kind of got what we deserved.”

While it’s clear that Donahue has assembled more talent in his third year in charge, he’s still trying to find the right blend of players for his rotation while figuring out a way to space the floor with two big men in the post after going with one last year.

One of those big men, Max Rothschild, took 19 shots — while La Salle doubled Brodeur — and finished with 14 points. And even after a tough loss, he’s excited to see how the team progresses after taking an experienced, athletic La Salle team to two overtimes.

“That’s the kind of stuff we love to do as players — we love to compete,” Rothschild said. “The more basketball we can play, the better. I think it was a great test for us. It was a great test to see how we can stay poised through these types of games.”

Added Giannini of his own team after the exhausting Big 5 affair: “Our guys showed great character and resiliency, and I know I was inspired by coaching them.”

B.J. Johnson's monster game not enough in OT

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B.J. Johnson's monster game not enough in OT

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Jeff Dowtin atoned for his miscue.

He scored 25 points, including making 11 of 12 free throws, to help Rhode Island clinch a share of the Atlantic 10 regular season title with a 95-93 overtime victory over La Salle on Tuesday night.

In last Friday's loss to St. Bonaventure, which snapped the Rams' 16-game win streak, Dowtin missed a free throw that would have tied the game in the final seconds. This time, Dowtin was perfect in the clutch, hitting two with six seconds left in regulation and four in the final five seconds of overtime.

"I know last game I didn't play to the best of my abilities," Dowtin said. "I'm going to take that to heart. I really thought I let the team down. My teammates really picked me up this game and feeding off them -- that really helped us get the win."

After the loss to the Bonnies, the Rams got home around 1 a.m. Saturday. Dowtin didn't go right to sleep. Instead, he worked on his free throws.

"He was shooting free throws in the Ryan Center, witnesses said until sometime around 3:30 in the morning and was in there all day Saturday," Rhode Island coach Dan Hurley said. "He's the type of kid that -- he's a winner. He's poised. He's composed. He showed everything he was about with the game he played both defensively on (Pookie) Powell and then how he delivered clutch free throw after clutch free throw after missing a big one the other night."

Dowtin, who also had seven assists, five rebounds and three steals, led five Rams in double figures. Stanford Robinson had 20 points, Jared Terrell had 14, E.C. Matthews had 13 and Fatts Russell had 10 off the bench.

La Salle was led by B.J. Johnson, who posted a career-high 23 rebounds to go with 29 points. Johnson had a double-double in the first half with 12 points and 10 rebounds.

The Rams (22-4, 14-1 Atlantic 10) trailed 30-18 midway through the first half before going on a 14-0 run and taking a 39-37 halftime lead.

"We just had to fight," Dowtin said. "We came out real sluggish. Everybody didn't come ready to play."

Rhode Island never trailed in the second half and led 81-78 with three seconds left. The Rams purposely fouled Powell, who made the first and intentionally missed the second. Tony Washington snared the long rebound and made the putback to tie the game at 81 at the end of regulation.

"That was a crazy play they had. That rarely happens, but it happened," Matthews said.

Cyril Langevine scored four straight to give the Rams a 91-87 lead with 2:20 left in OT. Trailing 91-90, La Salle had two chances to take its first lead since the first half but couldn't convert, as Johnson missed a jumper and committed a turnover.

"As a coach, I feel terrible about (it)," La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said. "We didn't get anything out of those two possessions where we had a chance to win the game, and that's on me."

Dowtin hit two free throws to give Rhode Island a 3-point lead, and the Rams again intentionally fouled Powell, this time with 3.2 seconds left. Powell again made the first -- and accidentally made the second. After Dowtin made two more, the Explorers tried the same tactic yet again but were called for a lane violation, and the Rams claimed at least a tie for the conference title.

"That's an amazing accomplishment," Hurley said. "The older players have been here -- they put this program in uncharted territory this year with everything they've accomplished. It's a special group. . Obviously we had to do it the hard way, but winning a championship is never easy."

Saul Phiri added 16 points, and Miles Brookins scored 13 for La Salle (11-17, 5-10).

"I thought it was a great college basketball game," Giannini said. "The kids played their hearts out on both teams. Tremendous drama. They were one play better than us."

Big picture
Rhode Island: With one more win or losses by both Davidson and St. Bonaventure, the Rams will clinch the first outright A-10 title in team history. In 1980-81, the Rams finished tied for a share of the Eastern Eight regular season title. The 14 conference victories match a team record.

La Salle: The Explorers are now 9-4 at home this season and have lost five straight to Rhode Island at Tom Gola Arena. Johnson's previous career-high in rebounds was 16 against Miami in November of last year.

Up next
Rhode Island: Hosts Dayton on Friday.

La Salle: Saturday at Fordham.

Tony Washington's career day sparks La Salle

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Tony Washington's career day sparks La Salle

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Tony Washington scored a career-high 20 points and pulled down a career-best 14 rebounds as La Salle overcame a slow start to beat George Mason 69-62 on Saturday afternoon to halt a three-game losing skid.

George Mason, looking for its third straight Atlantic 10 Conference victory, shot 62 percent from the floor in the first half, sprinting to a 45-32 halftime advantage.

The Explorers picked up the pace as Washington scored six straight points to open the second half, while George Mason opened that period shooting 2-of-15 from the floor. La Salle opened the second period on a 21-7 surge to take a 53-52 lead with 8:58 remaining in the game.

The Patriots battled back to retake the lead 58-57. Washington pulled down his 13th rebound and followed with a layup at the other end for a 61-60 lead with 1:20 remaining. The Explorers made six straight free throws down the stretch to seal the win.

Washington was 9 of 11 from the floor. B.J. Johnson added 18 points with nine boards and Amar Stukes had 12 points for La Salle (11-16, 5-9).

Justin Kier led George Mason (12-15, 6-8) with 19 points and seven rebounds.