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La Salle women hold off St. Joe's for third-straight win

01/19/2023, 12:30am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Mountain MacGillivray almost watched a great effort come undone at the end.

The La Salle women’s coach had seen his Explorers’ put in terrific defensive work on Saint Joseph’s over the latter three quarters of an Atlantic 10 game on Wednesday night, frustrating the Hawks’ offense for the better part of the last 30 minutes, and it almost wasn’t good enough.

A deflected pass found its way to the hands of freshman forward Laura Ziegler, whose 3-point attempt from straightaway was off the iron, the horn sounding before anybody could get their hands on a potential put-back.

“They were trying to get open and we were everywhere they were until the ball popped free right into the kids’ hands,” MacGillivray said. “Which, when you’re playing like St. Joe’s is, that stuff happens, because they’re making their own luck.”

The luck ran out against La Salle, which got some revenge on a New Years’ Eve loss to their crosstown rivals, taking the return game at St. Joe’s 61-58 on Wednesday night. It’s the third win in a row for the Explorers (12-8, 3-2 A-10), who are starting to play up to their preseason No. 2 selection in the league after losing to the Hawks and Rhode Island to open league play.

“We’ve been playing some pretty good basketball lately,” MacGillivray said. “Our intensity level, our ‘compete’ on the boards has just been different since we’ve come back [from the holiday break], and I couldn’t be more proud, and it’s starting to pay off in wins, three conference wins in a row. 

“We did not have our best offensive shooting day, but we found a way to make enough plays to win the game.”

La Salle’s win wasn’t just decided by a slim margin, it was a tale of two teams that were close to even all over the box score. 

They were almost dead even in rebounds (39-36 St. Joe’s), fouls (16-15, with La Salle committing one more), turnovers (St. Joe’s with one fewer, 13 to 14) and assists (14-13 St. Joe’s), points in the paint (28-26 La Salle), and more. Neither team shot it well: La Salle at 36.1% (22-of-61), St. Joe’s 33.9% (20-of-59); the Hawks took 18 foul shots (making 13) to the Explorers’ 10 (making nine), but La Salle got most of it back by making eight 3-pointers to St. Joe’s five.

It was a game that played out just as closely as the final score and stats indicated.

St. Joe’s (14-4, 4-2)  led for all but 30 seconds through the first two-and-a-half-quarters, going up as many as nine points late in the first half, but La Salle never let its hosts get out of sight. They finally flipped the script with a 21-12 third quarter, St. Joe’s going 4-of-14 from the field in those 10 minutes, 7-of-28 in the second half.

“We missed layups and free-throws, that’s what we did, we missed layups and free-throws and we had some shots that were earlier in offense that [...] we wanted maybe a different shot,” SJU coach Cindy Griffin said. “I think all shots are good but we wanted the best shot, and so I think we got a little bit ahead of ourselves in some situations.”

Claire Jacobs (above) led all scorers with 18 points in the win. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

Claire Jacobs led all scorers with 18 points for La Salle, the 10th time in 11 games the senior from Australia has finished in double figures. Her younger sister, Mia Jacobs, contributed a double-double with 12 points and 12 rebounds, while Claire’s twin Amy Jacobs added six points, five assists and five rebounds. 

It was Claire Jacobs who broke the final tie with a bucket with 1:38 left off a feed from her twin; Amy added two foul shots 26 seconds later, before Katie Jekot scored the game’s final point on a free throw with 48 seconds to play. The Hawks got their own stop with 16 seconds left, setting up the final play.

Talya Brugler paced St. Joe’s with 17 points, the only efficient Hawk from the floor at 7-of-9 shooting, though La Salle did a good job of making sure that Jekot couldn’t find the sophomore forward with too much ease after the Hawks’ sixth-year point guard carved them up for 11 assists on New Years’ Eve. Jekot ended up taking a season-high 15 shots, making four, as she didn’t have the passing lanes she usually did, a La Salle squad with size across the board making it difficult to find open shooters or a rolling forward.

“The game plan for them,” MacGillivray said, “is that she’s such a good distributor, you’ve got to contain her, and you’ve got to not help when she (drives). We put her in situations where when she went, she had to take the shot, because we weren’t over-rotating. 

“That was supposed to be the plan the first game, I think she got eight points on dump-off passes in transition, where we left to go play her and we weren’t supposed to do that. Tonight we gave up one in the first half, but I don’t think we gave up any in the second.”

For the second game in a row, St. Joe’s was unable to win a close one, after falling 58-56 at UMass, one of the conference favorites, over the weekend. The Hawks’ schedule doesn’t get any easier, with a visit from Fordham (12-7, 4-2) on Sunday, and while St. Joe’s is still in amongst the top teams in the Atlantic 10, a three-game losing streak is the last thing they want as the conference race starts to heat up.

“We’ve got to tighten things up — it’s just like football, the two-minute warning, we’ve got to be better in those two-minute situations,” Griffin said. “The good thing is that we’re in them, but we want to come out on top, and we’ve got to be better down the stretch taking care of the ball and getting the shots that we want.”

It’s no surprise that both of the St. Joe’s/La Salle matchups have come down to a grand total of seven points, St. Joe’s winning the first matchup 68-64. It’s two programs that have countless familiarity points with one another, from the coaching staffs on down.

“It’s such a good rivalry,” MacGillivray said. “My first experience with women’s college basketball was watching Cindy Griffin play with Katie Gardler [at Saint Joseph’s]. That was the first women’s college basketball I watched. My players I coached [at Archbishop Carroll] went and played for Cindy at Loyola [...] I grew up around the corner from St. Joe’s. 

“Personally, this game is important, because I know everybody. [St. Joe’s assistant] Ashley [Prim] coached with us last year and now she’s back where she went to school, I coached against [St. Joe’s assistant] Katie Kuester in high school. We know everybody, our players know one another, [Jekot] sisters are on both teams. It’s not a rivalry of animosity, it’s the way basketball’s supposed to be, it’s a rivalry of you really like those people on the other side — and you really want to beat them, and I know it’s the same way with them for us. 

“It’s a lot of fun playing those games, you don’t ever like to lose to somebody and you don’t really like to see somebody you really like lose, either. So that’s the challenge, but you’ve got to win the Atlantic 10 games and the Big 5 games, someone’s got to lose. I’d like it to be us, winning.”

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