It was a tale of two halves at the Tom Gola Arena on Tuesday night, as the La Salle Explorers came back from being down by as many as 15 points to defeat the St. Joseph’s Hawks, 53-48.
“If you could put a picture in the dictionary next to character win, this game would go up,” said head coach John Giannini on his team’s victory. “We could have lost confidence, but we didn’t. We kept fighting, and we kept chipping away at it, and I just couldn’t be more proud. It was not beautiful basketball, but we had great will.”
Half one was not what the Explorers wanted at all. Right from the beginning, the Hawks started on a 7-2 run. Senior Jerrell Wright then brought La Salle back into it, scoring six straight points to put his team up 8-7. The Hawks would begin to pull away after that, going on an 18-2 run near the end of the half.
“We were really down,” said Giannini on his team’s first half play. “They had a big lead. We weren’t playing well.”
The Hawks finished the first half up 27-18, feeding off of Isaiah Miles’ 10 points and eight points from Deandre Bembry. However, this would not cause La Salle to give up.
After only three first half points, Cleon Roberts started getting open looks and knocked down 11 second half points, nine of which came from beyond the arc.
“Every time they doubled in on Jerrell (Wright), he either went up or he found me open,” Roberts said on how he evaded Hawks defenders in the second half. “He really had confidence in me, and that made me confident.”
“They’re gigantic shots,” said Giannini on the four three pointers Roberts hit to help boost his team. “Threes are a big deal. They were well timed and we wouldn’t have won if he didn’t make them.”
Despite Roberts getting hot, the Hawks were still hanging neck and neck with the Explorers, as the two teams exchanged the lead a couple times in the last few minutes. But with a minute and twelve seconds left to play, Wright hit a two point jumper on a play that came out of a timeout that made the score 47-46, and gave the Explorers the lead for good.
“My teammates have faith in me,” said Wright on the shot that won the game for La Salle. “I felt like I had it when I got the ball and took the free dribble. It was all about the team having faith in me to take the last shot.”
Wright finished the game leading his team with 19 points, 13 of which coming in the first half. After the game, Giannini had nothing but praise for the senior from Philadelphia.
“He’s such a good player and he’s strong,” Giannini said on Wright. “I think everyone in the gym expects him to make that shot when he gets to the rim, and you’re surprised when he doesn’t. He was terrific today. And here’s the other thing: he was vomiting at halftime, he was cramping. Again, what a tough kid and what a courageous win.”
Looking to continue their momentum, the Explorers will travel to Olean, New York to take on St. Bonaventure in another Atlantic Ten battle on Saturday, January 31st at 7:00 p.m.