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Nickelberry shoots La Salle past St. Joe's for 2nd straight win

02/05/2023, 4:30pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

HAWK HILL — La Salle senior Josh Nickelberry doesn’t need much to get him going. So when St. Joe’s gave the 6-foot-4 guard — on the bench for most of the game prior — two easy looks in the middle of the second half, the hand-in-his-face three he hit next didn’t surprise Hawks’ head coach Billy Lange.

“There’s now way to stop that type of player from getting that type of shot off,” Lange said. “But you should have stopped the first one where we didn’t talk and you should have stopped the other one when he got it for the offensive rebound. For a great scorer like Nickelberry, that’s all it takes.”

La Salle's Josh Nickelberry scored 11 of his 16 points in the second half of Sunday's win over St. Joe's. (Photo: Owen McCue/CoBL)

Nickelberry came off the bench and scored 16 points in Sunday’s 73-65 Atlantic-10 Conference win at Hagan Arena. He saved 11 of those for the second half, reeling them all off in a row to help La Salle take control and win its second straight game after five straight losses.

“We just focus on staying together out there every game win or lose,” Nickelberry said. “We went on a streak of losing, so we just always tell each other, ‘Stay together. Stay together.’ Whenever we’re on the court practicing, just get better every single day and it will all come together. These past couple games, we’ve been staying together for the whole 40 minutes, staying focused for the whole 40 minutes and it’s paying off.”

La Salle (10-13, 4-6 A-10) scored the first points of the game with 18:48 left in the first half and never trailed on Sunday. The Explorers took a 35-30 lead into halftime and led for nearly 27 straight minutes until St. Joe’s sophomore Erik Reynolds, who led his team with 15 points, capped a 6-0 Hawks’ run with a pair of fastbreak layups to tie the game 45-45 with 12:05 to play. 

Nickelberry checked into the game a possession before and missed his first shot. Then he found some room for a pull-up to put the Hawks (11-12, 5-6) back ahead. Reynolds tied again, but this time Nickelberry answered with a three. 

He added two more long balls, including the deep, deep one Lange talked about, for 11 straight points to put the Explorers ahead 56-51 with 7:30 to play. Anwar Gill added a fastbreak dunk to extend the lead to seven, and Khalil Brantley knocked down a three with 4:46 left to put La Salle in control, up 61-52. St. Joe’s got the lead down to five a handful of times, but never close the gap again after Nickelberry’s stretch run.

“The other team is sitting there saying we can’t let Nickelberry catch the ball because he’s so good catching and shooting,” La Salle coach Fran Dunphy said. “To get shots is a critical piece to this and he worked really hard to get them and he stepped up and made big shots.”

Nickelberry came into the season as La Salle’s top returning scorer (11.2 ppg) and is second on the team in scoring this season (10.5 ppg) behind Brantley, who added 12 points on Saturday — also putting together a big second half with nine.

He started the team’s first 18 games this season before coming off the bench Jan. 21 at Saint Louis following a loss to St. Joe’s in the teams’ first meeting Jan. 16. Sunday was his fifth straight game coming off the bench. After struggling against Saint Louis and playing only three minutes against Davidson, he’s had a strong stretch in the last three games. 

Nickelberry scored 16 points (4-for-10 from the field, 4-for-8 from three) in 26 minutes of a 72-70 loss to Rhode Island then added 12 points in 17 minutes (5-of-7, 2-for-3) in a win over George Washington before shooting 6-of-11 form the field (4-of-6 from three) in 17 minutes on Sunday.

“I’m just doing whatever my team needs me to do to win. Not being in the starting lineup is fine with me as long as we’re getting the dub. I just come into the game and play my role. I know they’re going to play me hard on defense, so I just read the defense and take what I can get. I’m just really playing my role. I have 100 percent trust in coach, so I’m just playing my role whenever I get in.”

Nickelberry had five points in just five and a half minutes in the first half on Sunday. He didn’t check in until the 12:26 mark in the second, but still found a way to leave his mark in the win.

“He and I had an interesting discussion during the course of the game but he’s good about it,” Dunphy said. “I can say something to him, that you wouldn’t necessarily say to somebody else. I think his maturity is that good and that strong.”

Jhamir Brickus added 11 points and five rebounds to join Nickelberry and Brantley in double figures. Ejike Obinna was 6-for-6 from the field, including a couple monster slams, with 14 points and five boards for the Hawks.

The Explorers led by as many as 11 points (28-17 with 7:17 to go) in the first half Sunday before the Hawks trimmed the lead down to five before halftime. La Salle’s edge on the offensive glass proved a difference in the game as the Explorers grabbed 16 offensive boards, compared to nine for St. Joe’s, and scored 20 points off second-chance opportunities. Brantley and Rokas Jocius both had four offensive boards apiece.

“It’s a grind. We need to enjoy the grind and embrace the grind,” Dunphy said. “That’s what it is. I think these guys are doing that. Even when we were struggling there in terms of trying to get a win, I thought their patience and understanding of what we were going through was pretty good. I was proud of them in that regard and to come away today with this victory is a real good thing for us.”

St. Joe’s came into the game playing some of its best basketball under Lange with wins in five of its last six games. The Hawks were without Kacper Klaczek (illness) for the second straight game, and Lange went with freshman guard Christian Winborne (eight points) in the back court over Lynn Greer III (eight points) for a good chunk of the second half.

“Credit La Salle, their physical energy was phenomenal tonight,” Lange said. “There are two areas when you play them you have to be really good. One, you have to take care of the basketball, and for the most part it felt like we did that. … The other one is the offensive rebounding, and we didn’t do it.”

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