La Salle Explorers

La Salle's non-conference schedule highlighted by Northern Ireland trip

La Salle's non-conference schedule highlighted by Northern Ireland trip

As a Big 5 school, La Salle men's basketball has some constants year to year in its non-conference schedule. But in 2017, the Explorers will do something no other college basketball team has done before.

La Salle's 2017-18 non-conference slate, announced on Thursday, is highlighted by a trip to Northern Ireland for the inaugural Belfast Classic, the first sanctioned college basketball tournament ever played on the Emerald Isle. The Explorers will face Towson on Dec. 1 in the opening game, with a chance to take on either Manhattan or Holy Cross the next day.

Three of La Salle's non-conference opponents ranked in the RPI top 50 last season: Villanova (3), Miami (44) and Northwestern (48).

"We want to challenge ourselves, better ourselves, and gain quality wins to enhance postseason possibilities," Giannini said in a press release.

La Salle returns four starters, including leading scorer B.J. Johnson. The Syracuse transfer and Lower Merion product averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in his first season in blue and gold.

The season begins with a Nov. 11 on-campus game against St. Peter's as part of the Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-off Tournament. Two days later comes a Big 5 bout with Penn, followed by another Naismith game against South Alabama on Nov. 16. The Explorers then travel to Connecticut for the tournament portion of the event, where they'll play Northwestern, which made it to the NCAA Tournamnet for the first time last season, and then either Texas Tech or Boston College. 

Miami, featuring Neumann-Goretti High School product Ja'Quan Newton, will come north to face La Salle at a neutral site in Reading, Pennsylvania, on Nov. 22. Temple comes to Tom Gola Arena Nov. 26, then it's off to Belfast.

The final stretch before Atlantic 10 play begins with a Dec. 7 home game against Drexel. Villanova, with its on-campus arena under construction, will then host La Salle on Dec. 10 at the Wells Fargo Center in South Philadelphia. After hosting Mercer a week later, head coach John Giannini and the Explorers will travel to Bucknell to close out non-conference play against a team that won the Patriot League last year and is returning all five starters.

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.