La Salle went the first 17 minutes, and 43 seconds without making a shot that wasn’t in the paint or the free throw line until redshirt junior Spencer Scott made a mid-range jumper to cut Fairleigh Dickinson’s lead to one.
The Explorers would go on to hit only two more shots from the outside, which were two three-pointers from senior guard Isiah Deas to earn a 66-58 win.
La Salle fell behind early to the Knights, 22-14, but closed the half on a 17-5 run to take a four-point lead at halftime.
After the Explorers called a timeout as Fairleigh Dickinson cut the lead to 50-49 with 6:21 left, La Salle went on a 16-9 run to close out a gutsy win.
Keys to the game
La Salle played Saturday’s game without senior guard Saul Phiri, who injured his right hand after falling awkwardly in practice on Friday. Coach Ashley Howard said the injury isn’t serious and wanted Phiri healthy for next Saturday’s game against Bucknell.
Without Phiri, who shoots 47.1% from three, the Explorers had to rely much more on their interior game and the free throw line.
Sophomore forward Ed Croswell tied a season-best with 18 points and 15 rebounds, including seven offensive boards. Croswell helped create 21 second-chance points compared to Fairleigh Dickinson’s three.
La Salle freshmen Christian Ray and Ayinde Hikim were a combined plus-23. Ray, a guard from the Haverford School, scored a career-high 15 points, including 5-for-5 from the foul line. Hikim, also a guard, had four points, four rebounds and four assists.
“Saul is our vocal leader and a lot of times he’s the heart and soul of the team. [Assistant] Coach [Kyle] Griffin was telling me, ‘Ed, you have to step it up and be vocal because we’re missing Saul out there.’ So I took that to heart and in the second half I came out strong." — said Ed Croswell, on picking up vocal responsibilities without Phiri.
“You got to want the ball, man. When I was younger, I used to play with people bigger than me and it was hard for me to get the ball. We would play roughhouse and I would always have to try to find a way to get the ball. You pursue the ball with all your effort and it’s just a want thing.” — Croswell on how he developed a nose for the ball on the offensive boards.
“We’re having much better practices. We talk about it all the time, the pressure isn’t on us to perform, the pressure is on us to prepare. As we’ve gone into the season, one of the biggest things during our offseason was that we have a full team. Last year, we would have three guys here, four guys here because of injury. We went the entire summer last year without knowing if we were going to have Pookie Powell or we got Dave Beatty cleared late. There was so much uncertainty that our preparation was compromised and I was a young, inexperienced guy trying to figure it all out. This year, I had a better pulse on what was most important for our team going into the year and I feel like that’s really helped us start the season with a young team.” — La Salle head coach Ashley Howard on how certainty and better practice habits are contributing to an 8-3 start to the season.
La Salle can win games without shooting well from the outside. The Explorers dominated the paint with 40 points and shot 18-of-23 from the free-throw line.
Saul Phiri’s injury opened up playing time for Christian Ray and Ayinde Hikim, who got valuable experience playing in a tightly-contested game. A huge confidence-booster going into conference play.
Isiah Deas provided a stable presence as the only other senior on the court for the Explorers. Deas scored a quiet 13 points, grabbed five rebounds, and recorded a team-high plus-16. Deas and Phiri will need to continue to provide leadership once conference play begins.