The La Salle Explorers’ motto is “believe.” Head coach Ashley Howard puts a hashtag beside the word under most of his tweets.
You’d have to be extremely bought-in to that to think La Salle would win when it was down 14 points and shooting 9% against a Dayton team with a 20-game winning streak in the Atlantic Ten Conference.
Those who kept the faith were rewarded by an impressive performance. The game was tied at 65 with 29.5 seconds remaining when La Salle called a timeout. Point guard Ayinde Hikim held the ball until 10 seconds remained on the shot clock. Then he sprinted to the right, toward the rim.
Hikim was cut off by multiple defenders, but the ball found Clifton Moore after a couple of passes. Moore pump-faked, took a dribble and nailed a midrange jumper with 2.5 seconds remaining.
So the Explorers defeated Dayton, 67-65, at UD Arena. It was La Salle’s first win at Dayton since February 1999, and it snapped the Flyers’ 20-game A-10 winning streak.
“I told our guys that you just have to go out here and believe that you can do it,” Howard said. “We talk about believing all the time.”
La Salle (4-5, 1-0 A10) mustered just two points through more than the first nine minutes of game action. Dayton (4-2, 0-1 A10) was playing like the team that was picked to finish third in the A-10 preseason poll. Jack Clark knocked down a three, and suddenly, La Salle’s shooting became contagious. La Salle scored 20 of its 25 first-half points in the last 10 minutes.
Dayton (4-2 overall , 0-1 conference) entered Wednesday first in the A-10, shooting 57.6% from the field. La Salle started off playing man-to-man, but it was the zone defense that bothered the Flyers’ explosive offensive. The disruption led to 14 Dayton turnovers and 4-of-17 shooting from three.
“We wanted to try it out and keep them off balance,” Howard said. “As the game went on, We realized that the zone was effective and gave us an opportunity to mash up on their shooters.”
La Salle (4-5, 1-0) had six players score between 8 and 14 points. Sherif Kenney led the way with 14. Jack Clark scored 12, and Jhamir Brickus added nine points. The Explorers shot 46.4% overall and 57.1% in the second half.
Preseason first-team A-10 selection Jalen Crutcher scored 15 of his 19 points in the second half. Mustapha Amzil led the Flyers with 22 points.
La Salle had 31 bench points. Ayinde Hikim provided nine of those and a team-high five assists.
“I felt like what [Hikim] brought to our team today was unbelievable,” Howard said. “I thought he changed the game.”
Moore may embody La Salle’s motto as much as any player on the team. He transferred two seasons ago from Indiana. He wasn’t cleared to play last season and an injury hampered his ability to work out.
Along with his game-winner, Moore had 10 rebounds. He also made a clutch three midway through the second half after Dayton tied the game at 51.
“I’m so happy for him because he’s been through a lot,” Howard said. “An opportunity like tonight is like the basketball gods rewarding him for the work he has put in.”
This was a big win for La Salle’s program. The Explorers were picked to finished 13th out of 14 teams in the preseason A-10 poll. Howard said at the time that he felt like his team was better than that projection, and Wednesday night may have been the first step of proving it.
“It’s a building block,” Howard said. “As we’re building this program, you have signature wins. This could be a signature win for us.”