Carter Fillman (@johncarter_f)
Entering this season, there might not be more of a striking difference between two teams in the Catholic League than there are between La Salle and Cardinal O’Hara.
Looking back to last season, the Explorers ventured into the Catholic League championship before being upended by Roman Catholic, then made it to the state semifinals before falling to Pennridge. That group was led by seniors Zach Crisler (Rice), Konrad Kiszka (Prinecton), Allen Powell (Rider), and Titus Beard (Georgian Court) who led the school to a 17-0 start. Those four, with the addition of multiple other seniors, made up approximately 83% of the Explorers’ scoring on the year. The lone returner and starter is 5-10 senior guard Jake Timby, who recently committed to play at Catholic University.
On the flip side, Cardinal O’Hara was in the cellar of the PCL narrowly missing the opportunity to snag one of the final playoff spots as they finished 3-11 in league play. But that’s not to say they weren’t competitive, as they played tight games in losses to Carroll (72-70), McDevitt (73-68), Ryan (45-40), and the aforementioned La Salle (70-64).
And the best thing about coming into this year? Lions coach Ryan Nemetz brings back every single starter and virtually the same team as last year.
“You can tell a huge difference in year one to year two for them,” the second-year coach said. “They were all sophomores and freshmen, now they’re all juniors and seniors, so it’s good to see them grow.
“And they’re a lot easier to coach,” he added with a laugh.
Despite the differing situations, the Lions and Explorers met for the second straight year to open up their league schedules. And however the Lions are being coached seems to be working early in the season, as they raced past La Salle to a 70-62 road win on Tuesday night. All guys on the roster seem to buy in to the system of pushing the pace, moving the ball, and playing with extremely high energy on the glass.
Against the Explorers (3-2, 0-1), the Lions (5-0, 1-0) feasted early on untimely turnovers and jumped out to a 10-3 lead forcing an early timeout from the home squad, and then continued to build to an 18-9 lead after the first quarter. For the Lions, 6-2 senior wing Kevin Reeves scored nine of his 13 total points in the first quarter and grabbed three boards, while fellow senior guard Tre Dinkins added in five points of his own early on.
“They set the tone everyday in practice and they set the tone on the court,” added in Nemetz, “From just being vocal, making shots, playing defense, they’ve been doing it all, so the other guys have been feeding off those two.”
And it was clear that the rest of the team did feed off that energy. The Explorers struggled to get into offensive sets and the physicality of O’Hara’s defense caused multiple turnovers. This enabled 6-0 junior guard Anthony Purnell to shine, pushing the pace and finding open teammates. The Lions took a commanding lead 35-16 heading into the second half.
The Lions continued to push the pace in the third quarter and fourth quarter. With Purnell and Dinkins at the head of the charge, the Lions were able to stymie any late push the Explorers had in them. Credit goes to sophomore guards Nix Verano (14 points/four 3s) and Sam Brown (11 points/3 assists) who both came off the bench for the Explorers and were able to produce on both ends of the floor. Explorers were able to get as close as 8, even with a chance to cut it to 5 with slightly under a minute left, but O’Hara was able to lock back in and cruise to an opening victory thanks to a flurry of late free throws from Dinkins, with a final score of 70-62.
O’Hara was able to play at a level of intensity that was extremely refreshing to see. Players like 6-6 junior wing Solo Bombara, 6-2 junior guard Adrian Irving, and 6-8 junior forward Jax Trickey all played with tremendous energy, locked in defensively, and crashed the boards hard.
“They’re getting more comfortable in the system in year two.” Nemetz offered, “The buy in is going to help us win games.”
With the amount of scoring and experience they return, O’Hara will definitely be a sneakier team to watch in the Catholic League, kind of similar to how Bishop McDevitt played last year. They run the floor, play hard, and all are a threat to shoot from deep. On expectations for this year, Purnell offered just one phrase, “We expect to make top five in the PCL.”
Players of the Game
Anthony Purnell (19 points/4 assists/4 steals)
Purnell was fantastic in the open floor and half court, with a great handle on the ball and speed to boot. He was able to ease his way into the lane and dish out of the drive or finish strong. Purnell also had success knocking down threes off the catch and off the dribble, including a deep fade away from the far corner as time expired before the half. Purnell hounded ball handlers on the defensive side and used solid instincts to disrupt and jump passing lanes. There is definitely hope for Purnell to shape into a division one prospect as he fills out his frame and continues to develop, already flashing true point guard skills, vision, and well rounded scoring. Coaches don’t want to sleep too long on this one, this kid can play.
Shane Holland (21 Points/4 assists/3 steals)
When the Explorers found themselves continuing to trail in the second half, the 5-10 senior guard kicked it into high gear on his way to 19 second half points. Holland is a solid athlete and quick with the ball in his hands. He excelled at getting out in transition off of defensive pressure and finishing around the rim. The senior knocked down a handful of contested threes and was able to make the extra pass at the right time. Can tend to play a little out of control at times, but when he is settled and controlled Holland becomes a hard one to stop on his way to the basket.
--- 6-2 senior guard Tre Dinkins was extremely impressive throughout on the offensive end for O’Hara. More of a scoring guard at the moment, Dinkins possesses a knockdown shot and is a threat to hit off the catch, around screens, and off the dribble. He is developing into a very polished offensive scorer that D-IIs should be all over. If he continues to show this level of consistency throughout the season and flashes a bit more playmaking ability, he could wind up with a low D-I offer by the time the season ends.
---The sophomore duo of Nix Verano and Sam Brown will be an interesting one to watch develop as the season goes on for this Explorers squad. Brown, a standout football player, is a tremendous athlete that is able to get to the rim and use his strong body to finish through contact. Verano is becoming a can’t leave shooter from deep, hitting four 3s en route to 14 points off the bench. They played off each other well and will definitely pull some gravity for an Explorers team that is still searching for a consistent offensive answer early in the season.
O'Hara: 18 | 17 | 17 | 18 | 70
La Salle: 9 | 7 | 20 | 26 | 62
O'Hara: Purnell 19, Dinkins 19, Reeves 13, Bombara 9, Irving 4, Burton 4, Trickey 2
La Salle: Holland 21, Verano 14, Brown 11, Timby 6, Spinelli 6, DiPietro 4