La Salle Explorers

La Salle-Penn observations: Explorers hang on in double-OT Big 5 classic

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La Salle-Penn observations: Explorers hang on in double-OT Big 5 classic


The return of Big 5 basketball for the 2017-18 season was a nice reminder why the city series has been so much fun for more than 60 years.

For the first time in 71 meetings between the two Philadelphia rivals, Penn and La Salle went to double overtime with the Explorers prevailing in a 75-71 thriller Monday night at the Palestra.

• Amar Stukes, relatively quiet for most of the night, had a huge basket in the second overtime to put the Explorers up 64-61 before hitting to free throws to give La Salle a 66-62 lead with two minutes to go. He added two more free throws with 31.6 seconds left to help close out the win.

• Thanks to a late three from Penn reserve Caleb Wood and a few missed La Salle free throws, the Quakers had a chance to tie the game at the end of the second overtime period. But smartly, La Salle coach John Giannini instructed his team to foul in the backcourt with the Explorers up by three, and Darnell Foreman’s intentional miss of his second free throw didn’t lead to a Penn rebound.

• In the first overtime period, both teams calmly traded buckets and free throws. But neither team had a particularly good possession in the final minute and La Salle’s Pookie Powell missed a long three at the buzzer.

• Things got a little testy in OT with the team’s two stars — LaSalle’s B.J. Johnson and Penn’s AJ Brodeur — getting into each other’s faces after vying for a loose ball.

• The two teams traded leads throughout much of the second half before Johnson tied the game at 50-50 with 1:15 left. The score remained that way heading into overtime after Antonio Woods, back from a nearly two-year hiatus because of an academic issue, missed a good look right before the final buzzer of regulation.

• Powell, who missed last year’s Penn-La Salle game with a leg injury, had a really impressive play late in the first half, running back to make a big block in transition on Penn’s Devon Goodman. He also had a wildly acrobatic layup to put La Salle up 40-36 with just 13 minutes left in the game and helped seal the win with a bucket late in double overtime. He finished with 17 points.

• Johnson, one of the top scorers in the city last season, was the only player to score more than Powell, dropping in 20 before fouling out with 3:46 to go in the second overtime. The Syracuse transfer just looks so smooth when he pulls up for a jumper and his athleticism is off the charts, too. He had a couple of big dunks in the second half, including a one-hand slam that put La Salle up 48-47 late in regulation.

• Fresh off a strong defensive effort in a season-opening 61-40 win over Saint Peter’s, La Salle dialed up the defensive intensity again, holding Penn to 33.8 percent shooting while forcing the Quakers to take shots late in the shot clock.

• The Quakers looked to get Brodeur into the game early — which makes sense considering he dropped a freshman scoring record 35 points on the Explorers last season. After scoring seven in the first half, the sophomore was mostly quiet after the break but calmly drilled three straight free throws to put Penn up 50-48 with under four minutes to go.

• Brodeur got a lot help from his post partner Max Rothschild, who had a few big buckets in the second half and finished with a team-high 14 points — though it took him 19 shots to do it. It remains unclear if Penn head coach Steve Donahue should continue to start both Brodeur and Rothschild together.

• In his third year, Donahue is still trying to figure out his rotation — a task made more difficult by having a whopping 21 players on the roster (19 of whom dressed Monday). Against the Explorers, he mostly settled on nine guys, which left out a couple of established program players, including Jackson Donahue, who hit one of the biggest shots in recent program history to get Penn into the inaugural Ivy League Tournament last year. 

• After playing sparingly in Penn’s season-opening loss to Fairfield on Saturday, promising freshmen Jarrod Simmons and Eddie Scott got a little more time in the first half Monday. But neither scored and Scott missed all four of his shot attempts, including three in a row that helped La Salle go up 28-20 in the first half.

• With the game tied at 13-13 midway through the first half, La Salle went on an 8-0 run and led most of the way from there, until Penn sharpshooter Ryan Betley (14 points) hit a big three with 12 minutes left to put Penn up 41-40.

• La Salle showed off its size in a big way, outrebounding Penn by a 53-40 margin.

• La Salle had 10 turnovers in the first half but only had seven the rest of the way.

• Have you ever seen two lane violations in a row? La Salle managed the feat in double overtime, allowing Rothschild to hit a free throw he had just missed twice.

• La Salle snapped a two-game Penn winning streak in the series and has now beaten the Quakers nine times in the last 11 meetings.

• For a home opener and Big 5 game, there were surprisingly few Penn students in attendance. There also didn’t appear to be many La Salle students who made the trip to the Palestra, although it was a decent crowd otherwise.

• Before the game, Penn held a nice “press conference” announcing the addition of a new prized recruit: 12-year-old Tommy Johnson from Mount Laurel, New Jersey. Johnson was diagnosed with Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome and was set up with the Penn basketball program through Team IMPACT, a national nonprofit that connects children facing serious or chronic illnesses with college teams. And let’s just say Tommy was not shy in the press conference, responding with a “Me, of course!” when asked who is his favorite Penn player.

La Salle names Ashley Howard as new basketball coach

Photo: La Salle University

La Salle names Ashley Howard as new basketball coach

La Salle didn't have to venture outside of the Big 5 to find its new basketball coach.

The university Sunday announced Villanova top assistant Ashley Howard has been hired as the Explorers' next head coach. Howard will be formally introduced in a press conference Monday at 11 a.m. 

"It's an honor and a privilege to be named the head coach at La Salle University," Howard said in a press release from the university. "I chose to coach at La Salle early in my career because of its incredible tradition in the Big 5, its dedication to athletic excellence and its commitment to its student-athletes.  To have the opportunity to return to campus and lead this storied basketball program — a program defined by greats such as Gola, Durrett, Brooks, Simmons and Butler — is one for which I'm deeply appreciative."

Howard, who attended Monsignor Bonner High and graduated from Drexel, began his coaching career in 2004 at La Salle as an assistant to Dr. John Giannini.

"As a former assistant coach here, we know firsthand that Ashley Howard is an exceptional coaching talent who has a deep understanding of both La Salle's basketball tradition and its important student-focused mission," La Salle director of intercollegiate athletics and recreation Bill Bradshaw said. "This is a university that holds character, integrity and commitment to that mission in the highest esteem, and our men's basketball coach has the unique responsibility of reflecting that on and off the court."

After four years with the Explorers, Howard returned to his alma mater in 2008 as an assistant coach for the Dragons until 2012, when he moved over to Xavier as an assistant. 

Following one season with Xavier, Howard returned to Philadelphia as an assistant on Jay Wright's staff, where he experienced two national championships.

"Ashley is an outstanding coach who made a great impact on our program and University in his five years with us," Wright said. "His passion for mentoring young men and teaching skill has been invaluable in our team's development. La Salle has made a terrific selection and all of us at Villanova are thrilled for Ashley, Ariana and Journey as they embark on this new phase of Ash's career."

Giannini's 14-year tenure with La Salle ended in late March when he and the university "mutually agreed to part ways."

Dr. John Giannini out after 14 years as La Salle's head coach

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Dr. John Giannini out after 14 years as La Salle's head coach

After 14 years as the head coach, Dr. John Giannini is out at La Salle.

The university and head coach "mutually agreed to part ways," the school said in a statement.

Giannini will be best remembered for leading the Explorers to the Sweet 16 in the 2012-13 Cinderella season. 

He compiled a record of 212-226 at La Salle.

"I am truly blessed to have the relationships, challenges, and achievements that come from 29 years of being a head coach. In my time, I have witnessed hundreds of coaching changes involving many terrific coaches and schools," Giannini said in a statement. "Today, (athletic director) Bill Bradshaw and I mutually agreed that La Salle University could benefit from a new voice in leading the program. It is difficult to admit this but I have been given every effort possible for success and I have received nothing but support and encouragement from Bill and President (Colleen) Hanycz. 

"Greater things may be accomplished for this storied program and great university with the approach of a new coach. I am forever grateful, especially to my loyal staff and dedicated student-athletes. I look forward to my next challenge and La Salle's future success."