The tone was set early, but it won’t show up on the stat sheet.
La Salle’s David Beatty made a three-pointer 14 seconds after the Explorers won the opening tip Saturday against visiting Fordham. When the Rams went to the baseline to throw the ball in, the Explorers swarmed every Fordham player, and it was forced to use an early timeout to avoid a five-second violation.
That defensive intensity continued, and La Salle jumped out to a 17-point lead. The effort carried over to the offensive end, too, and La Salle defeated Fordham, 89-52 in an Atlantic Ten Conference game. It was the most points scored in the Ashley Howard era and the highest for La Salle since Feb. 20, 2018, vs. Rhode Island.
“I think the semester ending and our guys having more time to get shots up with the coaches is starting to pay dividends for our team,” Howard said. “I think much of it was the willingness to make the extra pass. The other part of it is just the confidence that they’ve been able to establish since the semester ended.”
La Salle (5-5 overall, 2-1 A-10) had an early 11-0 run and a 21-4 lead less than eight minutes into the game. The Explorers scored a season-high 45 points in the first half and shot 64.3%.
The Rams (0-2, 0-2 A-10) had seven non-conference games postponed due to COVID-19. They played their first game Wednesday against George Washington. La Salle took advantage of that lack of game experience with constant ball pressure and a mix of zone and man defenses.
The Explorers shot a blistering 58% overall. Scott Spencer led the way with 16 points. Sherif Kenney (15), Jack Clark (15), Beatty (14) and Ayinde Hikim (13) each scored in double figures.
La Salle forced 19 turnovers, which led to a 26-7 advantage in points.
“We always want to use our defense to create offense,” Howard said. “We believe that when you create turnovers, get stops, and get out in transition, it gives us the best opportunity to get high quality shots.”
Ten games is long enough that trends turn into tendencies. One noticeable difference for La Salle this year is three-point shooting. Last season, the Explorers were seventh in the A-10, shooting 33.6% from deep. They entered Saturday’s game second in the league, shooting 38.2% from three. Against Fordham, La Salle went 16-for-32.
“Everybody on our team can hit shots, and we all know that,” Spencer. “We just trust one another and move the ball.”
Saturday was the second straight game La Salle had two freshmen – Jhamir Brickus and Anwar Gill – in the starting lineup. Wednesday’s contest against Dayton was a slow start, but Saturday was the opposite. Brickus (10) and Gill (5) combined for 15 of La Salle’s 24 assists.
The Explorers have another home contest on Wednesday against St. Louis. The Billikens were picked second in the preseason A-10 poll, and have been one of the league’s best teams.