The La Salle Explorers will open their 90th season on Thursday afternoon against the host St. John’s Red Storm at New York City.
The La Salle-St. John’s series is tied 3-3. But this will be their first meeting since 1964, when St. John’s prevailed 78-71 at New York City’s Madison Square Garden.
On Wednesday night, host St. John’s won its season opener, rallying late to defeat Saint Peter’s, 76-75.
True freshman point guard Posh Alexander made a key steal, and junior college transfer Vince Cole hit a go-ahead 3-pointer with 0.7 seconds left to lead the comeback.
Cole finished with a game-high 21 points, making 5-of-6 on 3-pointers.
“Obviously, he’s got my attention,” St. John’s coach Mike Anderson said when asked about Cole after the game.
The Storm trailed 75-71 with 28 seconds left. But Cole made a layup with 18 seconds left. On the ensuing in-bounds pass, Dallas Watson’s deep pass was intercepted by Alexander. Cole then made his 3-pointer from the left elbow.
On the final play of the game, Saint Peter’s guard Matthew Lee nearly won it, dribbling the length of the court before missing a layup, in traffic, off the front rim.
Meanwhile, the Explorers — who will be better rested — are led by senior shooting guards David Beatty and Scott Spencer.
Beatty, who is 6-foot-2, led La Salle in scoring last season, averaging 10.7 points. He scored in double figures 20 times and finished second on the team with 34 steals.
Spencer, who is 6-6, led the Atlantic 10 Conference in 3-point shooting (43.8 percent). He made more than one trey in 18 games last season.
In total, the Explorers return 10 letter-winners. They also brought in four freshmen plus a transfer student, 6-10 junior Clifton Moore, a former top-100 recruit who played 24 games for the Indiana Hoosiers. Moore sat out last season per transfer rules.
Ashley Howard, heading into his third season coaching La Salle, likes to play a deep bench. Last season, LaSalle was among the nation’s leaders in bench minutes played, and that playing time surely benefited Christian Ray, Sherif Kenney, Brandon Stone and Ayinde Hikim, who are all now sophomores.
Kenney and Hikim, both from Washington D.C., figure to share the duties at point guard. Hikim is 5-11 and ultra-quick – a pest defensively. Kenney is 6-4 and a long-armed defender.
The Explorers are known for defense. Last season, they ranked tied for 35th in the nation in steals and 34th in 3-point defense. And when they held opponents to 70 points or less, the Explorers went 12-2.
Still, La Salle was picked to finish 13th in the 14-team A-10.
“We think we’re a little better than those projections,” Howard said.
The Storm will likely be without Julian Champagne, a 6-8 sophomore wing who also missed Wednesday’s game due to a sprained ankle. He is the Storm’s leading returning scorer (9.9) and rebounder (6.5) from last season.
Anderson has to be relieved his team prevailed on Wednesday. The Storm shot 54 percent in the first half but then missed 15 of their next 18 attempts.
They were saved by Cole, a 6-5 wing who lived up to the hype from last season, when he was a first-team junior college All-American.
Alexander, a heralded true freshman point guard from Brooklyn, had 16 points, seven rebounds and two assists. He shot 5-for-8 from the floor.
“You don’t cry about a win,” Anderson said. “You learn from it.”
–Field Level Media