NEW YORK -- There was a mad scramble with 1:40 on the clock. UMass had charged back from a nine-point deficit just five minutes prior to cut the La Salle lead to one, the Explorers trying to hang on for dear life. The ball bounced around, with the shot clock running down. Khalid Lewis got hold of the ball, and the 31.6 percent three-point shooter hoisted a prayer from the deep corner.
The ball found the bottom of the net, and was just one of La Salle's many counter punches in its 76-69 win over Massachusetts on Thursday in the teams' opening game of the Atlantic 10 tournament at the Barclays Center.
The shot by Lewis made it a four-point game, giving the Explorers every ounce of momentum they were lacking just seconds before. The lead never dropped below that number.
"I thought we were going to win, honestly," UMass coach Derek Kellogg said. "The play that was the gut-wrenching punch in the face was the three in the corner with the shot clock running down."
La Salle was full of answers for UMass, something the Explorers could not find in the two games they had dropped earlier this season to the Minutemen. Jordan Price wore down UMass with body blows throughout the game, including sparking an 18-4 run to put the Explorers ahead midway through the second half.
The redshirt sophomore guard tallied 28 points, which tied a La Salle A-10 tournament record. He scored the first nine points of the game for the Explorers, who came out of the gate sluggish. For nine minutes, no other La Salle player found the bottom of the net, putting the Explorers in an early hole.
Even though Price led the charge in points, La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini was even more impressed with the rest of his stat line, which included eight rebounds and zero turnovers.
"Also, I just noticed Jordan being our second-leading defensive rebounder ... with six defensive rebounds and zero turnovers," Giannini said. "When you're a guard and scoring and you don't turn it over and you get rebounds, there's a lot of credit for helping us win this game. Forget about the points --just the rebounds and the passing alone are a big deal."
"We know Jordan can score," senior forward Steve Zack said. "Everyone in the country knows he's a scorer. He does a great job. If he has shots, he knocks them down. When they start posting on him, he finds an open guy all the time. We feed off each other's energy. One guy gets going and gets amped up, and that brings the whole team right up with it."
Price not only showed he could score early and often, but he also did so from the foul line late in the game to seal the victory. He went 14 for 18 from the line, making more free-throw attempts than the entire UMass team. Cleon Roberts, who had 16 points, was 6 for 6 from the line, four of which came in the final minute.
"Unlike many of the other things in basketball, you can't make more by trying harder," Giannini said. "You can't make more by drawing something up on a clipboard. You can't make more by game-planning. So, you know, hopefully you have good shooters with some poise. Again, we have lost some games at the free-throw line this year, and today, it really helped us win."
Zack had himself one of his best performances of the season to go along with Price's proficient scoring. The 7-footer had 12 points and 11 rebounds, and held UMass forward Maxie Esho to seven points on 2-for-8 shooting.
"Obviously, Steve gave us great leadership and rebounded the ball wonderfully," Giannini said. "He had zero turnovers and had a great game, especially guarding Maxie Esho, who is a terrific player. If you look at defense and passing, it is hard to play much better than Steve played today."
Donte Clark led the Minutemen with 23 points and six rebounds. Senior forward Cady Lalanne ended his college basketball career with a solid effort: 17 points and 16 rebounds.
The Explorers next will face the A-10's top seed, Davidson, at noon Friday. Davidson is a great shooting team, sinking 39.7 percent of its shots from beyond the arc, which gave La Salle fits in the Wildcats' 77-69 win at Tom Gola Arena in February.
"They have five, six, seven guys who are legitimately good three-point shooters, so I think they have way more good shooters than anyone else," Giannini said.
"So, listen, they won this league for a reason. ... You look at how unbelievably great Virginia's defense has been this year. Well, Davidson is like the offensive version of them."