Surely you remember Florida Gulf Coast. The Eagles made it to the Sweet 16 in 2013, the same March that La Salle did, by dunking their way past Georgetown and San Diego State in South Philly. On Saturday they were back in town for the first time since then. This time the Explorers were the opponent, at 20th and Olney on a sleet-filled December afternoon.
These Eagles came in ranked in the top 10 in the nation at both shooting the three and defending the arc. And sure enough they went 12 of 22 on triples while holding La Salle to 8 of 25. But what the Explorers had going for them was a lot of B.J. Johnson. It turned into a trump card.
The junior transfer from Syracuse, who played at Lower Merion, scored 28 of his career-high 35 points in the second half, including 14 of his team's final 23 and the last six. And the Explorers (5-4), who led by 11 in the first half and trailed by six with 71/2 minutes to go, broke a two-game losing streak, 84-80.
"We found a way," coach John Giannini said. "We had a lot going against us, against a good team. It was a game we could have easily lost. That's a major sign of growth for our team."
They played the final 25 minutes without Cleon Roberts, who injured his right ankle. They got only 25 minutes from Jordan Price, who got into foul trouble and drew his fifth personal with 32 seconds left. But he packed a lot into his time, especially down the stretch. His layup put the Explorers ahead for keeps with a minute and a half remaining. Then he beat the shot clock with a foul-line jumper to make it a two-possession game. The Eagles (7-5) would never get closer than two. Price had also made a terrific feed to Johnson for the layup that tied things up.
No other Explorers had a field goal in the last 10 minutes. Johnson shot 10 for 16, 3 for 6 from deep, was 12 for 14 at the foul line, and had four steals. He didn't have an offensive rebound, as Giannini jokingly (we think) pointed out.
"When your most talented guys are dependable, that's when you can really have a special team," said Giannini, whose next game will be Thursday at Mercer (Macon, Ga.). "There's not another way to have a good team.
"Bobby didn't go out to score 35. He did what his team needed him to do to win."
The Eagles got all but 13 of their points from three players, led by Brandon Goodwin's 23.
"I was just playing," said Johnson, whose previous career-best was 24 a month ago. "I wanted to be aggressive without being too aggressive. They were keying on [Price] a lot. He made the right play and found me.
"A couple of games, I kind of got lost a little bit. My teammates were telling me to pick it. Every time you win it gives you more confidence."