Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
Saturday’s Big 5 clash between La Salle and Penn at the Palestra was reminiscent of March Madness. It had buzzer beaters, career performances, and unlikely heroes.
La Salle guards Anwar Gill, and Jhamir Brickus had career scoring nights. Penn’s Jordan Dingle also finished with a career-high 37 points, but Gill’s 26 and Brickus’ 25 propelled Fran Dunphy to his first Big 5 win as La Salle’s head coach, 84-81, against his former assistant coach Steve Donahue.
Anwar Gill (above, in November) had 26 points as La Salle beat Penn in OT on Saturday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
“These two guys, they had terrific games.” Dunphy said with Gill and Brickus beside him. “Their numbers were off the charts, they made timely plays, timely shots.
“It's a really good win for us. We’re grateful for it, and hopefully it will help us move forward. But it's a pretty good emotional lift for us coming off what we did against Temple where we played very well in the first half defensively and we weren’t really good in the second half.”
Gill finished with 26 points off 9-15 shooting. He also added six rebounds, four assists, and three steals. Brickus, who had been struggling so far this season and averaging 6.8 ppg (down from last year's 8.6 ppg) had 25 points, shot 9-12 from the floor, added two assists, and one steal.
“I’m just glad we got the win when we came off a tough loss.” Brickus added. “It was my teammates who gave me looks. But this right here gave me more confidence to play, go harder, and make everyone around me better.”
The night almost ended poorly for La Salle (4-4) when Dingle’s 3-pointer tied the game at the buzzer and forced the game into overtime after Brickus missed the front end of a one-and-one which would have extended La Salle’s lead to four.
The Quakers (5-6), who lost in overtime for the second consecutive game, had all the momentum going into the overtime period, but Gill settled his team down and scored La Salle’s first two baskets with a lay-up and a three pointer from the wing.
“I didn’t want to lose, that was my main thing.” Gill said after his career scoring night. “We lost a tough one to Temple. So I wanted to come in and be as aggressive as possible on the offensive and defensive end to get a win. We are a hungry team and I played hungry.”
Gill and Brickus took over and all but sealed the win for La Salle. In the overtime period, the pair combined for 11 of La Salle’s 15 points. Gill had six points, two assists and recorded a steal. Brickus, a Coatesville product, had five points.
Jhamir Brickus (above) broke out of a slow start to his junior year with 25 points. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
But Dingle was not done scoring and added seven points of his own. He also buried a three to pull the Quakers within three points.
Reminiscent of how regulation ended, a Brickus miscue on a travel violation gave the ball back to Dingle and the Quakers down three with a chance to tie with 37 seconds left. However, the Coatesville native and La Salle’s defense stiffened up and forced Dingle into a tough shot that hit the iron with 5 seconds left.
Gill corralled the defensive board, got fouled, and iced the game from the foul line by extending La Salle’s lead to 84-80. It was a fitting ending for the Montverde (Fl.) product who played a career high 35 minutes.
“I’m grateful for any minutes I get,” he said. “So, whether I get ten minutes or play a whole game, forty minutes, I’m going to do my job.”
Mentor versus Mentee
Dunphy and Donahue have spent lots of time at the Palestra. They have shared the same bench and stared across the scorer’s table at one another countless times.
Fran Dunphy (above) picked up his first Big 5 win as La Salle's head coach. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The pair's relationship goes all the way back to 1990, when Dunphy, the Big 5’s winningest coach began at Penn and hired Donahue as an assistant.
The two speak frequently and their relationship is strong, despite their battles on the court.
“I owe a lot, if not my whole career to Coach Dunphy,” Donahue said afterward. “He gave me an opportunity when I was 27 years old.”
“I talked to him before. I’ll talk to him after. I talk to him most days. He’s a really really good basketball coach. His kids just play hard. They never shoot themselves in the foot.”
Dunphy is the winningest coach in Penn’s history, compiling 310 wins from 1990-2006. His Quaker teams won 10 ivy league titles and three Big 5 Championships. Donahue spent 10 seasons at Dunphy’s side before taking his first head coaching job at Cornell University. Donahue then spent time at Boston College before returning to University City to coach the Quakers.
“We've coached against each other a number of times and it’s hard to be honest with ya,” Dunphy said talking about Saturday’s overtime thriller. “At the end of regulation and you see the shot go in, I was ready to give him a hug and say can you believe this? This is happening! That we’re going to overtime here.”
“But you feel for the person on the other end. Especially, when you work with someone for 10 years. He had a lot of influence on me and showed me a lot of things in my 10 years coaching with him.”
Clark Slajchert inactive for the Quakers
Penn was down one of its main contributors against La Salle and it certainly made a difference having Slajchert on the sideline in a polo rather than on the court, where he’s having a breakthrough junior year. A native from Los Angeles, Slajchert, is Penn’s second-leading scorer, averaging 18 points per game.
His injury is another obstacle for Donahue’s squad to overcome that has already lost sophomore George Smith for a stretch with a face injury. Slacjchert's absence contributed to Dingle’s career scoring night. But the Quakers struggled to find an offensive rhythm and production outside of Dingle’s play.
“When you lose a kid that scores 18 points per game it’s hard,” Donahue said about missing his second-leading scorer. “We rely on Clark.”
Slajchert’s injury came after he scored 18 points and went nine-for-nine from the foul line in a 85-80 overtime loss to Big 5 rival Saint Joseph’s.
His offensive production was supplemented by Dingle’s career night. The junior guard from Blair Academy (N.J.) scored 37 points off 12-22 shooting. However, as the game wore on, Dunphy’s defense attributed more attention to Dingle’s offensive presence.
“Jordan, they put so many different bodies around him.” Donahue said. “He was amazing at times. My fear is that we’re relying on him so much because we don't have the 18 points from his backcourt partner.”
Penn’s two next highest scorers were Nick Spinoso who had 11 points and Max Martz who finished with nine. The Penn bench also only totaled 14 points.
Khalil Brantley exits with leg injury
La Salle suffered its own injury issue when its own second-leading scorer, sophomore guard Khalil Brantley, took himself out of the game, hobbling over to the bench nine minutes into the contest. He went back into the locker room and though he returned to the court for the second half, he was in slides and sweatpants, clearly not in a place to re-enter the game.
Afterwards, Dunphy just referred to it as a “leg injury,” not able to get any more specific just yet.
“We’re gonna have to wait for the doctors and trainers to do their work tomorrow,” Dunphy said.. “Hopefully he won't be out too long…hopefully we can get him back soon, [he’s a] good player.”
Brantley is averaging 14.3 ppg through La Salle’s first seven games, up from 8.0 ppg as a freshman, while also adding 5.3 rpg and 4.0 apg. A flashy playmaker, he’s shooting 38.7% from the floor.
Despite the injury, Brantley still led his team from the bench. His voice echoed from the sideline and he conveyed critical observations and motivation to his teammates during timeouts.
“KB is a floor general,” Gill said about Brantley’s leadership. “He sees a lot of things on the court whether he’s on the court or off the court.”
“He was telling us to be more aggressive,” Brickus added. “On the defense side he was telling us to talk more, make sure we got each other's back, and help the helper. It’s little stuff like that. It helped us win.”