La Salle coach Ashley Howard knew how his team handled ball pressure from host St. John’s on Thursday would likely determine the result of the game. By the end, the Red Storm had a 33-9 advantage in points off turnovers, and the Explorers’ sloppy play led to 26 turnovers and an 82-65 non-conference season-opening loss.
“I didn’t like the fact that we just weren’t able to make aggressive plays that were given to us and just get ourselves organized to play our game without turning the ball over,” Howard said. “It’s something that we’ve been talking to the team about.”
La Salle’s depth was as advertised. Ten Explorers scored, and Ayinde Hikim led the way with 14 points. Christian Ray added 12 points and tied with Scott Spencer for the team lead of six rebounds.
Freshman guard Jhamir Brickus and Jared Kimbrough were the only two Explorers who played and had fewer than two turnovers. Brickus did so by scoring 11 points in 18 minutes.
“I thought for a freshman to play against a team like St. John’s that pressures you and speeds you up, he was a real bright spot.” Howard said. “He played with great composure.”
Howard credited fatigue for some of the turnovers. David Beatty picked up his second foul in the first half with 16 minutes, 21 seconds remaining. His absence led to earlier substitutions. Plus, freshman Anwar Gill was held out after suffering an injury in practice. Howard said that Gill is “doubtful” to play Friday.
“Those guys had to play until they got tired, and then they had to play through that fatigue,” Howard said. “It was certain lineups where I felt like guys were getting in a good flow. But then they got tired, so then you got to get them out and make subs.”
The jury is still out on the Explorers’ starting lineup. Beatty earned the start at point guard over Hikim and Brickus. The Explorers had early turnover issues, and the starting group wasn’t able to find a groove.
St. John’s capitalized on La Salle’s mistakes and shot 45% from the field. Sixteen of those turnovers were steals. The Red Storm were also without their top two returning leading scorers from last season.
“It’s good that we got a chance to play an early game against a quality opponent on their home floor and experienced what it felt like to be pressured and sped up,” Howard said. “I’m sure this game will make us significantly better moving forward.”
La Salle plays St. Peter’s Friday at 4 p.m. The Red Storm needed a three-pointer in the final 10 seconds to get a 76-75 win over St. Peter’s on Wednesday.