Corky Blake (@corkyblake)
La Salle opens its Atlantic 10 Conference schedule Jan. 3 at home against George Mason.
But on Saturday afternoon at Lafayette, the Explorers’ redshirt sophomore guard Andres Marrero again made his case to be considered for Player of the Year honors in the Patriot League.
Yes, the Patriot League.
Marrero connected on five 3-pointers for the bulk of his career-high 20 points in La Salle’s 67-51 victory over the Leopards in Easton.
Marrero’s previous career-high of 18 points came Wednesday night in a 62-61 victory over Loyola (Md.), another Patriot League. He hit a 3-pointer in transition with 11 seconds to go to give the Explorers the lead for good in that one
La Salle's Andres Marrero scored 20 points in Saturday's win over Lafayette. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL File)
And if you keep thumbing through Marrero’s resume, you’ll find his career-high coming into this season was 16 points last season against Bucknell and his previous high this young season was 12 points on Nov. 14 against … you guessed it, Bucknell of the Patriot League in the first game of Duke’s Blue Devil Classic.
“It’s just confidence, confidence from my coaches and teammates, and it’s been working out,” said the 6-foot-5 Marrero who was among the Atlantic 10 leaders in 3-point accuracy at 50 percent (18-for-36) coming into La Salle’s second game of the season played outside of Philadelphia.
Marrero’s consecutive 3-pointers – the first one he converted into a four-point play when he was fouled on the shot – gave the Explorers the lead for good after Lafayette went ahead 32-31 on Devin Hines’ 3-pointer three minutes into the second half. Marrero drained two more 3s to go with 3s from senior guard Jhamir Brickus and freshman swingman Tunde Vahlberg Fasasi, and the Explorers were well on their way to their eighth win in 10 outings.
“I’ve been looking for him (Marrero),” said Brickus, who posted a season-high eight assists against Loyola and matched that total Saturday. “I just needed his confidence to be there because it’s a long season and I know we’ll need him so it’s me looking for him and getting his confidence. It means a lot to me.”
La Salle coach Fran Dunphy said Marrero is maturing as an offensive threat after paying his dues in the program.
“He’s had other moments like that. If he gets space, he can make shots and he did that. Nice to see that,” Dunphy said. “He certainly has always been able to shoot the basketball. It’s one thing to make shots, it’s another to be able to get shots. He’s doing a better job of getting shots, knowing where to be, how to fade to the wings, being in the right spots at the right times.
“These guys are looking for him. They like playing with him; they dig it so much when he makes shots so all those things are good. He needs to improve on the other aspects of making plays, defending, rebounding. Of course, I had to find something that was wrong today and I told him he didn’t get a rebound when the one guy went over his back. So, he didn’t do it and I had to yell at him about that.”
The games against Loyola and Lafayette came during a week that was squeezed in between Big Five Classic games the previous week against Temple (triple overtime loss) and Penn (overtime victory) and finals week that begins Monday. Next Saturday, the Explorers head south to resume play at Miami.
“Was I concerned? Yes, I was concerned but part of that was because they (Lafayette) hammered us last year at home and we were never in the game,” said Dunphy of the 90-65 nightmare in which the Leopards shot 15-for-26 from beyond the arc. “I watched a ton of their film, and they can make shots. (Seven-foot center Justin) Vander Baan steps out and makes a 3, are we able to get out to him? Are we going to have to change some stuff? So, there were lots of questions today. But we’ll take the win.”
Vander Baan did step out to the top of the foul circle to stroke a 3-pointer that drew Lafayette to within 23-21 with 4:39 to go in the first half. And when Kyle Jenkins scored the first five points of the second half to push the Leopards to a 29-28 lead, Mike McGarvey’s club was not playing like a squad whose only win in 11 games was against Division III Wilkes.
Lafayette appeared prime to secure its third straight victory over the Explorers.
But this contest had a similar vibe to Drexel’s visit to Kirby Sports Center on Nov. 29 when the Dragons trailed 23-21 at halftime before taking care of business over the final 20 minutes to prevail 69-48.
“We came back in the locker room and said that’s not what we are here for today,” said Brickus the former Coatesville star who scored a Big Five game record 41 points in the triple OT loss to Temple. “We really emphasized being focused, and we came out in the second half and dialed in.”
“We said we had to be more focused and pay attention to the details and that worked out (in the second half),” Marrero said.
In the second half, Lafayette made just 2 of 11 3-pointers and shot 30.3 percent overall while La Salle made 9 of 20 3-pointers after intermission.
Junior guard Daeshon Shepherd of Archbishop Wood registered all of his career-high three steals in the first half and finished with 11 points, including a thunderous one-handed slam off an alley-oop pass from Brickus to boost the edge to 58-43.
Brickus’ stat line included the eight assists, 14 points, three steals and seven rebounds. His backcourt mate, senior Khalil Brantley, who’s listed at 6-1, led the Explorers with nine rebounds to go with seven points, six assists, two steals and the wrath of Dunphy for trying to dunk in traffic in the second half.
“We need Jhamir and Khalil to be terrific drive and kickers but also to be able to score,” Dunphy said. “I thought Brantley made a nice play against their zone late in the shot clock to put us up from nine to 11.”
After playing Miami, the Explorers will close out 2023 with home games against Division III Rosemont (Dec. 21) and Howard (Dec. 30) before embarking on their A-10 schedule in January.
“We’ll give them off two days, Sunday and Monday, which is a crazy finals day for them. We’ll do some individual stuff and then prepare three days for Miami,” Dunphy said.
“I think we’re finding out who we are as a team,” Marrero said. “We had two emotional games against Temple and UPenn, and this week we said we have to get ready for these two games and get the wins.”
Senior Eric Sondberg led Lafayette with 13 points but only three in the second half. Jenkins added 12 points and eight rebounds.
Freshman point guard Mark Butler of Penn Charter, who’s started every game for the Leopards, was 4-for-7 for eight points to go with two assists against one turnover. He was coming off a career-high 15 points in a loss at Columbia on Tuesday. Freshman wing Joshua Wyche of Cristo Rey scored four points in a reserve role.
Corky Blake is a freelance writer who has been covering high school and college sports in eastern Pennsylvania for more than 40 years, primarily for The Express-Times (Easton, Pa.).