LAWRENCEVILLE, N.J. – La Salle jumped out a 13-point halftime lead, fell into a deep slumber, then woke up in time to escape with a 69-60 victory over Rider last night.
"We earned every bit of that win with the way that Rider challenged us," coach John Giannini said after his Explorers improved to 6-2 heading into Saturday's game against top-ranked Kansas in Kansas City, Mo. "We responded."
La Salle responded with clutch free throws after Jhamar Youngblood's foul shots pulled Rider within two points (62-60) with 1 minute, 56 seconds to play.
The Explorers' Rodney Green, Yves Mekongo, and Kimmani Barrett combined to make 7 of 8 free throws in the final 1:44 to clinch the victory. For the game, La Salle made 17 of 22 free throws to shoot a season-best 77.3 percent from the line. The Explorers had gone in shooting 61 percent.
"That was a factor in putting the game away," said Giannini, whose squad also grabbed 34 defensive rebounds. "But I just give our players credit for working on it in practice, realizing we had problems, and addressing it."
The overall play of Green and Aaric Murray also enabled La Salle to hand Rider (6-4) its first loss at Alumni Gym since Jan. 30. The Explorers hold a 23-6 series advantage.
Green made 3 of 4 three-pointers in scoring a game-high 25 points. The 6-foot-5 guard also had seven assists, six rebounds, and two steals.
Murray, a 6-10 freshman center, added 12 points, eight rebounds and a steal. He also had five of La Salle's 10 blocked shots. Eight came in the first half.
Senior guard Ryan Thompson, who played at Lenape High in South Jersey, led Rider with 16 points on 6-of-19 shooting. Two other local products - junior forward Mike Ringgold and sophomore guard Novar Gadson - also scored in double figures.
Gadson (Bartram) had 14 points, 12 rebounds, three blocks, and a steal. Ringgold (Roman Catholic) added 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Broncs have six players from the Philadelphia area. Brandon Penn (Paul Robeson), Patrick Mansell (Cheltenham), and Carl Johnson (Lower Merion) are the others.
La Salle's 6-8 twins, Jerrell and Terrell Williams, were back after one-game suspensions for violating a team rule. Jerrell started at forward, while Terrell contributed from the bench.