Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
There’s just something that’s extra-fitting and extra-fun about Big 5 games when local products use them as a chance to shine.
That was the case on Monday at Hagan Arena, as Saint Joseph’s hosted La Salle, the court filled with those who grew up in the 215 and the 610, who’ve heard about the Big 5 long before they were ready to play in it.
Jack Clark (above) scored 21 points on Monday, his most in a Big 5 game. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“That’s one of the reasons why you come to La Salle, go to St. Joe’s, go to play in the Philly Big 5,” La Salle fourth-year head coach Ashley Howard said. “The local guys understand that.”
Players like Cheltenham’s Jack Clark and Hatboro’s Clifton Moore, teammates at La Salle, and key components to the Explorers’ chances day in and day out.
Clark finished with 21 points, tying his career high, and Moore added a double-double in leading La Salle to a 75-64 win at Saint Joseph’s on Monday afternoon. Josh Nickelberry added 19 for the Explorers, who trailed by 14 late in the first half and by nine at the break but dominated the second half.
Big 5 games haven’t always been kind to Clark. The Cheltenham graduate hasn’t played in too many of them over his four years at La Salle, the result of missing all but nine games in his first two years due to injury, then COVID limiting the city series to just a couple matchups against Saint Joseph’s last year.
Outside of a nine-point effort against Villanova in his collegiate debut, when he was 3-of-4 from downtown, Clark’s struggled to put together a quality outing against the other Division I programs from Philadelphia. In the Explorers’ first three Big 5 games of the season, he scored two points against Villanova, seven against Temple (2-11 FG) and two against Penn.
This was certainly a break in the right direction.
“It felt good, honestly,” he said. “Especially playing against St. Joe’s at St. Joe’s, it was a very good feeling.”
Clark helped shoot La Salle (6-8, 1-3 A-10, 2-2 Big 5) back into it with three 3-pointers in the first six minutes of the second half; the first cut St. Joe’s lead to seven, the second to a point, and the third tied it at 40 with 12:56 to play. His fourth triple, three minutes later, put the Explorers up four points, and his final bucket — a steal-and-dunk with 6:07 remaining — made it a 55-48 ballgame.
Clifton Moore (above) finished with his third consecutive double-double in league play. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
He finished the game shooting 7-of-15 from the floor and 5-of-10 from deep, with six rebounds and two assists.
“I was just playing off my teammates,” he said. “Going into halftime, my teammates were telling me, ‘you’ve got the open shot, you have the open shot, all you have to do is just stick it.’ And I went out there in the second half and just shot with confidence.”
Like a majority of the La Salle rotation, Clark’s minutes and production have run the gamut under Howard, who’s not afraid to change up lineups and rotations from game to game. Clark has started half of La Salle’s games this season, typically playing 20-plus minutes and as many as 42, though he’s also played 15-or-fewer on a couple occasions.
“Just getting out there, whether you play 12 or 32 minutes, you just have to go out there and play as hard as you can,” he said, “and the outcome, just like the outcome today — play as hard as you can and this is what happens.”
“I tell Jack all the time, when you go into games and you focus on defending and rebounding, your offense comes,” Howard said. “And when you do a good job on the defensive end like he did today, then he plays for long, extended periods of time, and then he gets the opportunities to get some buckets on the offensive end.”
Moore, another Suburban One League product (Hatboro-Horsham), helped close things out from there. His three-point play with 4:45 left gave La Salle its largest lead yet, 60-51, and then made it an 11-point gap with a second-chance bucket the next time down the court.
The 6-foot-10 forward produced his third consecutive double-double in league play with 16 points and 10 rebounds, continuing his own strong individual stretch. He’s come a long way from his days at Hatboro, when he was more content to hang around the 3-point arc and play like a big wing; now, the bulked-up redshirt junior is embracing playing like a ‘5’ man.
“I realized as a big man I can’t just be doing what I was doing in high school, I need to have a more well-versed game, and I think I really developed that so I can really do both,” he said.
“I think Cliff is starting to really come into his own,” Howard said. “He’s been through a lot — went through injuries, went through sitting out, transferring, went through the pandemic, and people on the outside don’t realize how all these variables impact these guys, and Cliff has really battled through all of that.”
Taylor Funk (33) led the Hawks with 16 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
For Saint Joseph’s (7-8, 1-3 A-10, 2-2 Big 5), the loss was the third in a row after a big win at Richmond on Dec. 30, which had Hawks fans thinking this could be the year that Billy Lange’s group started to move towards the top of the A-10 standings.
Instead, there was noticeable frustration inside Hagan Arena as the final couple minutes ticked down, a few fans not afraid to vocalize their feelings about the loss, and the general direction of a program that hasn’t made an NCAA Tournament in six years.
The Hawks shot 22-of-61 (36.1%) overall and 9-of-17 from the foul line, and got out-rebounded 43-34 by the Explorers. Taylor Funk had 16 points on 5-of-10 shooting; Jordan Hall had 11 points, five rebounds and four assists, while Cameron Brown added 10 points.
Is Lange concerned about where his program’s at, midway through his third year with the program?
“Zero concern, zero,” he said. “I understand the question and I respect the question, but I don’t think like that. We keep teaching and we have to keep learning, I have to keep them engaged, we have to make sure they stay together.
“This season was not going to ever be defined by ‘everything works out the way we want it.’ We’re not there yet. This group has to stay elevated, we have to stay focused on serving each other, we have to become more fundamental. We have to be a little more detailed. We’ve just got to get better.”