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St. Joe's men handle La Salle for first A-10 win

01/15/2024, 10:00pm EST
By Owen McCue

Owen McCue (@Owen_McCue)

HAWK HILL —  St. Joe’s freshman guard Xzayvier Brown said he’s felt the difference since the start of Atlantic 10 Conference play.

“You could just tell it’s more physical,” Brown said. “I remember our first game at Rhode Island just felt like a war. I’m not trying to say non-conference is easier, but you just feel the intensity of the game. That was an eye-opener for me and then every game since then has been like a war.”

The first three tries in conference play this season, Brown and the Hawks came up empty — a four-point loss to Rhode Island then three-point losses to both Saint Louis and Loyola Chicago, a frustrating loss to the Ramblers on Saturday starting to sound some alarm bells.

They picked up their first A-10 win of the season Monday at Hagan Arena with an 82-62 victory over rival La Salle.

Redshirt-freshman forward Christ Essandoko scored a carer-high 13 points and added a carer-high five assists to highlight a balanced effort for St. Joe’s in the convincing win. Brown provided 19 points off the bench, junior guard Erik Reynolds scored 15 and sophomore forward Rasheer Fleming tallied 11 points and 11 rebounds.

Coach Billy Lange and St. Joe's won their first A-10 game on Monday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“The difference between non-conference and conference is everybody kind of has a feel for each other, seeing the same guys come back,” Reynolds said. “It’s definitely more challenging. It’s something that I keep repeating but the more we stay together, the tougher we’re gonna be.”

Coming in on a three-game skid, St. Joe's (11-6 1-3 A-10) jumped out to a 19-2 lead on Monday and never let the Explorers’ back closer than seven. Brown had 11 of his 19 in the first half to help St. Joe’s to a 42-29 lead. The Explorers (10-8, 1-4 A-10) trimmed that to eight on three by freshman Tunde Vahlberg Fasasi, who started in place of the injured Anwar Gill, at the 17:11 mark in the second half. An 8-0 St. Joe’s run was the putaway punch with 8:04 to play as Brown’s triple made it 69-49.

The Hawks shot 50.9 percent, which was their best shooting performance since shooting 52 percent in a non-conference win over Iona on Dec. 16.  They shot 39.7 percent against Rhode Island, 37.9 percent against Saint Louis and 42.1 percent against Loyola. 

Essandoko’s presence as a scorer and passer was felt throughout.

“We’re just bringing a 7-foot, 200-and-whatever pound man back into the fold here who is starting to get his conditioning back,” St. Joe’s coach Billy Lange said. “That just diversifies the things we do.”

Junior guard Khalil Brantely scored 16 points and Andres Marrero scored 15 points for La Salle. It was another tough night for the Explorers’ offense as they shot 36.1 percent from the floor following a 33.8 percent performance in Saturday’s loss to VCU. Monday marked their third straight loss.

“We obviously put ourselves in a hole early, which didn’t help us,” Dunphy said. “We fought back. We got it to 13 at the end of the first half and we got it to nine at one point. We needed to make great decisions down the stretch and we probably didn’t. We probably had some plays that we gotta do a better job on.”

Lange credits his team's ability to keep Brickus and Brantley in front was important. Reynolds praised the defense of Lynn Greer III.

"They intentionality that we needed to have to stop (Brickus and Brantley) from getting into the paint was obviously a big part of what we needed to do tonight," Lange said.

The Hawks proved in the non-conference with wins over the likes of Villanvoa and Princeton that they have enough talent to make some noise when the games matter even more in March. They still have to navigate their way through the A-10, however, and getting win No. 1 in conference play under their belts was a big one.

“I’m feeling great,” Lange said. “Every team in the A-10 is good in my opinion, so it’s going to be a tough battle every time out. The theme of us this week practice, or just in general is we have to earn these things. Nobody’s going to give anything to us, so I feel like we came out and earned this today.”

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