La Salle had garnered a reputation in the Atlantic 10 Conference this season for playing the league’s better teams tough, as evidenced by their victories over Richmond, St. Louis, and Dayton, the top three teams as selected in the preseason.
But St. Bonaventure, which went into Tuesday night’s game tied for first in the conference, made sure it came out with its A-game for the contest at the Reilly Center in Olean, N.Y. The Bonnies shot 61% from the field and got double-figure scoring from their five starters in an 86-73 win over the Explorers.
La Salle (8-12, 5-8 A-10) was led by Sherif Kenney with a career-high 22 points, but had to play more than half the game without head coach Ashley Howard, who was ejected with 7 minutes, 44 seconds remaining after picking up two technical fouls.
The Explorers led for much of the opening nine minutes of the game, taking their largest lead, 22-13, on Kenney’s three-pointer with 10:43 to play. The Bonnies (10-2, 8-2) responded with a run of nine consecutive points, tying the score at 22 with just under 9 minutes to play on a basket by Jaren Holmes.
David Beatty’s jumper put La Salle back in front by two, but that would be the Explorers’ final lead. As the Bonnies embarked on another run, Howard felt a need to speak up.
“Our guys were battling and I looked up and we were in the penalty, like nine fouls to two,” Howard said. “The referee made a call in front of our bench that could have gone either way. We had a play down our end where I felt one of our guys got fouled and they didn’t call it, and I ran on the court and got a T. Then I gave them another piece of my mind and they ejected me.
“For me, it was more just trying to let my guys know I was fighting for them, and was just trying to light a fire under my team. I know the referees aren’t going to get every call right, so that was my intent.”
The Bonnies went on to complete a 15-3 run and take a 10-point lead at 37-27. They maintained their 10-point margin, 45-35, at the half. The Explorers, who shot just 34.4% in the opening 20 minutes, trailed by double digits the entire second half and by as many as 18 on two occasions.
They had one last run, cutting the deficit to 81-71 on Jhamir Brickus’ three-pointer with 2:40 to play but couldn’t get any closer. Brickus added 13 points and David Beatty 12 for La Salle, which finished the game shooting 39.1% with 12 threes and had 19 second-chance points on 16 offensive rebounds.
“St. Bonnie’s made some difficult shots,” Howard said. “Our offensive game plan in the second half was really effective. I felt like we got dribble-penetration and were able to find our shooters. We had some clean looks that we’ll live with every day of the week that didn’t go down for us.”
Jalen Adaway led the Bonnies with 20 points and Kyle Lofton added 18.