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 comes through in the clutch for La Salle

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USA Today Images

B.J. Johnson comes through in the clutch for La Salle

BOX SCORE

BELFAST, Northern Ireland — B.J. Johnson scored 15 points, including two free throws with 1.7 seconds left, and La Salle held off Holy Cross 58-54 on Saturday in the consolation game of the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic.

Pookie Powell, who had 13 points, hit two 3-pointers during an early 8-0 in the second half to give the Explorers (5-4) a 42-26 lead. But in the final 15 minutes, La Salle made just four more baskets and the Crusaders (2-5) charged back.

A 15-2 run, capped by a jumper by Jehyve Floyd with 2:25 to play, tied the game at 50. Johnson responded with his only 3-pointer in seven attempts to quickly put La Salle, which went 4 of 12, back on top. The Crusaders got a pair of free throws with 1:18 to go but Isiah Deas hit another La Salle 3 with 58 seconds remaining. Both teams missed opportunities before Patrick Benzan made a layup for Holy Cross with 3.2 seconds left before Johnson sealed the win.

Floyd led Holy Cross with 15 points and Benzan had 13, 11 in the second half.

La Salle falls apart down stretch in loss to Towson in Ireland

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AP Images

La Salle falls apart down stretch in loss to Towson in Ireland

BOX SCORE

BELFAST, Northern Ireland -- Zane Martin scored 20 points, Mike Morsell added 17 and Towson outscored La Salle 9-2 in the last 2 minutes on Friday for a 67-60 win in the inaugural Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic.

The Tigers (7-1), who have won seven straight, face Manhattan in Saturday's championship game while the Explorers (4-4) meet Holy Cross. This is the first time regular season college games have been played in Europe.

There were 11 ties and 13 lead changes and neither team had a double figure lead.

Pookie Powell, who had 13 points, pulled La Salle into a tie at 58 with a free throw with 3:01 to play. Eddie Keith II answered with a reverse layup for the Tigers and then Brian Starr had a shot-clock beating deep 3-pointer from the right wing to make it 63-58 with 1:13 to play.

B.J. Johnson, who led the Explorers with 24 points and nine rebounds, hit a baseline jumper with 54.3 seconds to play but that was La Salle's only basket in six attempts in the final 2:21. Martin sealed the game with four free throws in the final 22 seconds.

The Sport Changes Life Foundation and the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference partnered with the Hall of Fame to put the tournament together.