John Giannini

B.J. Johnson's big night helps La Salle avoid collapse to South Alabama

uspresswire-lasalle-bj-johnson.jpg
USA Today Images

B.J. Johnson's big night helps La Salle avoid collapse to South Alabama

BOX SCORE

B.J. Johnson had 30 points and 10 rebounds to help La Salle beat South Alabama 81-73 on Thursday night.

La Salle led 65-44 midway through the second half until South Alabama scored 14 straight. Johnson ended the run with a put-back basket to make it 67-58 with 7:03 left.

Rodrick Sikes pulled South Alabama within 78-73 but Amar Stukes answered with a 3-pointer with 1:04 left.

La Salle (3-0) opened the game with 10 unanswered points and led 47-27 at halftime. Johnson scored nine of La Salle's first 18 points as it held a 10-point lead. He had 22 points and six rebounds at the break.

Johnson, coming off a 20-point and career-high 14-rebound performance, had his third straight double-double. Isiah Deas added 15 points, and Saul Phiri had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

The Explorers held their previous two opponents to below 35 percent shooting but the Jaguars were 26-of-55 shooting.

Jordan Andrews made four 3-pointers and scored 20 points for South Alabama (1-2), which played La Salle for the first time in program history. Sikes added 17 points, Herb McGee had 12, and Josh Ajayi 10.

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

ap-amar-stukes-la-salle.jpg
AP Images

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

BOX SCORE

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.”

La Salle releases full 2017-18 schedule

uspresswire-lasalle-john-giannini.jpg
USA Today Images

La Salle releases full 2017-18 schedule

La Salle's full 2017-18 schedule is out and the Explorers are ready to travel.

The Atlantic 10 slate features tough road games at Rhode Island, Richmond and Davidson, while John Giannini's club will play a tip-off tournament in Uncasville, Connecticut, a December tournament in Northern Ireland and a home game in Reading, Pennsylvania.

The good thing: La Salle doesn't have to visit VCU or Dayton, two of the more difficult road stops in the conference.

The Explorers will also play all five of their City 6 foes.

La Salle, which finished 15-15 (9-9 A-10) last season, will be led by 6-foot-7 senior wing B.J. Johnson, a Syracuse transfer who averaged 17.6 points and 6.3 rebounds per game in his first year with the Explorers.

Here's a look at La Salle's full schedule, which was released Wednesday:

Nov. 11: Saint Peter's

Nov. 13: at Penn

Nov. 16: vs. South Alabama

Nov. 18: vs. Northwestern*

Nov. 19: vs. Texas Tech/Boston College*

Nov. 22: vs. Miami**

Nov. 26: Temple

Dec. 1: vs. Towson***

Dec. 2: vs. Manhattan/Holy Cross***

Dec. 7: Drexel

Dec. 10: at Villanova (Wells Fargo Center)

Dec. 17: Mercer

Dec. 22: at Bucknell

Dec. 30: Saint Louis

Jan. 3: at Rhode Island

Jan. 6: vs. VCU

Jan. 10: at UMass

Jan. 13: at Duquesne

Jan. 17: Fordham

Jan. 20: at Richmond

Jan. 24: UMass

Jan. 31: at Davidson

Feb. 3: Saint Joseph's

Feb. 7: at George Washington

Feb. 10: at Saint Louis

Feb. 13: St. Bonaventure

Feb. 17: George Mason

Feb. 20: Rhode Island

Feb. 24: at Fordham

Feb. 28: Dayton

March 3: at Saint Joseph's

Naismith Hall of Fame Tip-Off Tournament*

Home game in Reading, Pennsylvania**

Basketball Hall of Fame Belfast Classic***