Ashley Howard (above) and La Salle doubled their A-10 win total by beating St. Joe's on Saturday afternoon. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
Kevin Callahan (@CP_KCallahan)
PHILADELPHIA – These old-time, cross-town rivals can really be measured against each other for the future since both Saint Joseph’s and La Salle are in rebuild mode.
And, the process will be fascinating to watch and see which program will arrive to where it wants to be and how quickly they do – or don’t – get there.
First, though, each fan base must settle for seeing the small steps the Hawks and Explorers are taking compared to each other.
On Saturday night, the comparison says these Big 5 brothers are separated by 17 points.
True, the 83-66 spread in the Atlantic 10 Conference matchup places La Salle’s rebuild ahead of Saint Joseph’s. But, rather than points, the more precise measure is the Explorers are ahead in reconstruction by a year.
La Salle is in the second year of the rebuild under coach Ashley Howard compared to the first year for the Hawks under Billy Lange and that time was more significant than any other factor – way more than the Explorers being home at Tom Gola Arena – in the inaugural meeting of the two head coaches.
Howard’s year head start, however, is minimal when looking at the big picture.
And, the big picture shows these two Catholic colleges are in the same league and really recruit the same level of players with both coaching staffs tapped into the richly-talented Philadelphia Catholic League.
So they are not just slugging it out on the basketball court twice a year in the A-10. These two proud programs are dueling on the recruiting trail every day all year.
But right now, wins matter. Especially to the upperclassmen on both teams.
And the standings show the Explorers evened their record at 11-11 and doubled their wins in the A-10 at 2-8 while the Hawks dipped to 4-19 and stayed winless in the conference after 10 games.
Therefore, what can be said about the game without reaching for a premature judgment on either side is to look at the immediate boost for La Salle in snapping a seven-game losing streak.
“It feels good to get over the hump,” Howard said. “Our guys have been battling and sticking out injuries, tough losses and the energy and vibe has remained positive through it all.
“We talk about tapping the rock and our guys kept tapping the rock and it didn’t break yet and we gave it a really good blow today and hopefully we can use today’s game and continue to build and get better as the season goes on.”
La Salle junior guard David Beatty from Imhotep paced four scorers in double figures for the Explorers with 18 points.
“To be honest, the mental is a little bit hard knowing that we grind super hard every day,” Beatty said. “We try to stay strong and we know that it is going to crack eventually and if we continue to work hard we will be successful.”
Howard understands what Lange is enduring in his first season on Hawk Hill. Last year, La Salle was 10-21.
“Patience and grace,” Howard said when asked what he learned from his first season as a head coach. “You just got to hope that when you are going through stretches like Billy is going through that your guys keep motivated and keep coming back and get better and better.
“And it is not unlike what we went through the last few weeks with the seven-game slide. You just do your best to keep guys positive and keep guys focused on getting better.
“I know Billy is doing that,” Howard continued. “They are competing and they play hard, they have a leader in Ryan Daly who everybody follows. I know it is difficult for him going through this stretch, but I think Billy will get it right and he will have their heads in the right spot.”
Lange is fully aware his job now is way more than drawing up plays.
“The job of the leader is to always access the spirit of your team,” Lange said. “If you are 10-0, you are worried about over-confidence, or arrogance or pride and if you are 0-10 you worry about lack of confidence or over-humility or fear. It is all about the lens that you see it through. You see what you think, you think what you see and ultimately you become what you see you think.
“So, I want them to become for 40 minutes of the great possessions that we watch them do and that is what I will keep my focus on.”
As Howard said, Saint Joseph’s also has another leader in Daly to keep the Hawks’ heads up.
“We actually tried to stop him from scoring to 26 points,” Howard said about Daly, who led all scorers after shooting 9-for-16 from the field.. “But he is just a guy who is a baller, he knows how to score. So even if he is not getting his shots in the flow of their offense, he always finds a way to be around the ball. If there is a loose ball, he is coming up with it. If it is a scramble play, he is the one that ends up with the ball underneath the basket for an ‘and-one.”
“That is just having savvy and instincts and that is what makes Ryan Daly a great player. We tried our best to limit his touches, we denied him, but still found a way to score 26 points and shooting a good percentage.”
Saint Joseph’s must rely on Daly, the Delaware transfer, who arrived at 20th and Olney leading the team in scoring (20.1), rebounding (7.6), assists (4.4) and steals (1.0). In fact, only Cameron Brown, a freshman guard, has also started all 23 games this season. Brown came in next in scoring nine points a game and scored right on his average against La Salle while junior forward Lorenzo Edwards was second scoring with 10 points.
The Explorers regularly doubled teamed Daly at half court, so the powerful swingman couldn’t shoot or drive and had to rely on splitting the trap on throwing over the top to a teammate.
“Their defense, their switching, their denying forced us to make some plays that messed us up a little bit and that is an area we will continue to develop,” Lange said.
After making 10 of its 20 attempts from beyond the arc in the first half, La Salle didn’t score its first field goal until the 15:20 mark of the second half when Hikim drove the lane for a layup and was fouled, making the free throw for a 47-34 lead over the Hawks.
Another Hikim bucket padded the Explorers lead to 53-40 with 11:40 left in the first half, but the Hawks cut the spread to single digits on layups by Myles Douglas and Edwards.
However, the Explorers’ first 3-pointer of the half, a wing shot by Sherif Kenney, expanded the lead to 56-44 midway through the second half.
Daly, an Archbishop Carroll graduate, willed his way to his way to his second field goal of the second half on a driving layup. He was fouled and made the free toss to chop La Salle’s lead to 60-52. The Havertown resident added two free throws and the Hawks trailed by 10 with 7:55 to play.
Ed Croswell then took over the game.
“He was great particularly when it seem like maybe we had a little run,” Lange said about the 6-foot-8 sophomore from St. Joseph’s Prep
Croswell scored seven straight points, including a two-handed dunk, to stretch La Salle’s lead to 72-57 with five minutes to play.
“Having Ed is vital for us to play inside out and teams key on him and he is making quick decisions out of the post and that is just going to help our team,” Howard said. “Very important that Eddie continues to make the right play and not force the issue down low because if he does it, it is going to be really hard for teams to guard him and guard us.”
“Ed is a great player, and obviously teams will key on him,” Beatty added.
The Explorers finished off the Hawks with a trey and two free throws from Beatty and then a one-handed jam by Kenney for a 82-62 lead with less than two minutes to play.
“I thought we fought all the way to the three minute mark and then we ran out a little bit of gas,” Lange said.
The comparisons between these programs in a similar rebuild will continue in a couple weeks when the two teams play again in the regular-season finale on March 7 at Hagan Arena.
And although that game might - or might not - show another double-digit separation between the programs, it will hopefully for both coaches show steps and signs that can be boasted to recruits and really that is all either fan base can ask for this early in both program's rebuild.