The Hawks looked like they had their second Big 5 win and third Atlantic 10 win of the season in an intense battle with La Salle on Saturday. Until suddenly, they didn’t.
Despite trailing for nearly 38 minutes, the Explorers hung around and did just enough in the final minutes to pull off a wild, 78-77 victory over St. Joseph’s in an energized Hagan Arena. A clutch jumper by David Beatty, two free throws by Jared Kimbrough, and a controversial defensive stop closed out the hotly contested Big 5 contest.
Six players finished in double figures for a La Salle team (15-15, 6-12 Atlantic-10 conference) that distributed the ball well and found ways to score when it mattered. Of their 31 made field goals, only four were three-pointers, but each came at crucial moments to keep the game close. St. Joseph’s (6-25, 2-16 A-10) led by as many as 11 points but couldn’t find a way to pull away.
The Hawks’ Ryan Daly led all scorers with 25 points. He dominated most of the game but struggled against double-team defenses late in the game. With seconds to play, Daly appeared to give the Hawks the lead on a contested bucket in the paint following a Rahmir Moore missed three. Instead, a foul was called on St. Joe’s Cameron Brown with 0.8 to play that sealed the victory.
Ayinde Hikim paced the Explorers with 15 points, while fellow freshman guard Christian Ray added 13. Both made crucial buckets in the closing minutes to give the Explorers their fourth conference win in their final six regular-season conference games.
Hikim and Ray ruled the afternoon, combining to shoot 11-of-20 from the field for 28 points. Ray added 11 rebounds. The duo was the most-efficient part of the La Salle offense, which shot 31-of-65 (47.7%) from the field and just 4-of-14 (28.6%) from three. The difference for the Explorers was their 17 offensive rebounds, which led to 15 second-chance points.
Daly anchored the Hawks’ offense, as usual, while adding five rebounds, four assists, and two steals. His defense on La Salle’s point guards was crucial in keeping the Explorers’ offense from taking advantage of the Hawks’ scoreless streaks.
But when La Salle started adding an extra defender on Daly, the Hawks’ production stalled. Daly hit a three with 8:51 to play to give the Hawks a four-point lead, but didn’t score again until he knocked down go-ahead free throws with 1:02 to play. That stretch enabled La Salle to hang around.
“We gutted this one out,” La Salle coach Ashley Howard said. “We knew St. Joseph’s was going to play inspired basketball, and we were playing for seeding in the A-10 tournament. ... Our guys just battled. They dug, they scrapped, they clawed until the end, and we were able to steal it in the end.”
“They’re impossible to defend," St. Joseph’s coach Billy Lange said. "They’re just a great one-on-one basketball team. ... They played loose, and they made some tough shots. We’ve got to labor, and they don’t.”
La Salle never led by more than one point or more than 1:03 in a hostile road atmosphere. Grabbing a win in those circumstances has to be a confidence boost for the Explorers, who will enter the Atlantic 10 tournament as the 10 or 11 seed.