PHILADELPHIA (AP) Jalen Brunson scored 26 points and Josh Hart had 21 to help No. 1 Villanova hold off La Salle 89-79 on Tuesday night.
The Wildcats (9-0) failed to dominate in their first game of the season as the top-ranked team in the country. The national champions led La Salle (4-3) by only single digits late in the game and played little like the team that had steamrolled to the top.
Coach Jay Wright had worried that Villanova’s ascension to No. 1 would give the Explorers a little more incentive to go out and knock off the champs.
La Salle almost came through at the famed Palestra.
Johnnie Shuler and Pookie Powell made late 3-pointers that pulled the Explorers to 77-70. La Salle, which has never defeated a No. 1 team, got more late help from long range when Jordan Price popped a 3 that made it a four-point game. Powell scored 27 points.
La Salle just didn’t have enough to get past Villanova and earn its biggest win since it reached the 2013 Sweet 16.
The Wildcats sealed the win on Donte DiVincenzo’s late dunk and avoided the upset.
La Salle: The Explorers lost three times to No. 1 teams in the 1950s, once each in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2010s. La Salle last lost to a No. 1 team 90-65 to Kansas on Dec. 12, 2009.
Villanova: The Wildcats went 5-1 as an AP Top 25 No. 1 last season. They were the top team in the country for three weeks and proved they were worthy of the ranking with the program’s second national championship. The Wildcats are trying to become the first repeat champs since Florida in 2006-07.
La Salle faces another Big East team Saturday against Georgetown.
Villanova gets its toughest test in weeks when it plays No. 23 Notre Dame in East Rutherford, New Jersey.
No. 9 Villanova uses 3-point shooting to beat La Salle 76-47
VILLANOVA, Pa. (AP) Josh Hart scored 18 points and Ryan Arcidiacono had 14 to lead No. 9 Villanova past La Salle 76-47 on Sunday.
The Wildcats (8-1) bounced back from their first loss of the season, 78-55 to No. 7 Oklahoma on Monday. They hit 13 3-pointers and had 24 assists on 28 baskets and again flexed their muscle as the class of Philadelphia basketball.
The Wildcats have won 12 straight games in the Big 5, round-robin play among five Philadelphia Division I basketball teams that dates to 1955.
Hart connected on two straight 3s midway through the first half to open a double-digit lead, and Villanova dominated from there.
The Wildcats missed 28 of 32 3-pointers against Oklahoma. They had made 11 of 19 when they doubled up the Explorers 66-33 midway through the second half.
Villanova holds the city series record with 14 straight victories from 2004-05 to 2007-08. The Explorers beat the Wildcats three seasons ago, the year they reached the Sweet 16.
La Salle hasn’t made the postseason since that remarkable run and played like a team on the brink of extending that streak another season.
Jordan Price, who entered third in the nation in scoring at 25.9 points per game, led the Explorers with 16 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
The Wildcats reached 70 points with 6:30 left and have won 36 consecutive games when scoring at least that many.
Hart, Jalen Brunson and Arcidiacono opened the second half with 3-pointers that turned a comfortable lead into a full-blown rout. Brunson, the highly touted freshman guard, scored 13 points.
Without much reason for sustained excitement, Daniel Ochefu snapped the crowd out of a funk with three rim-shaking dunks. He also grabbed 10 rebounds.
Inside or outside, the Explorers were no match for a Villanova team again stamped the Big East favorite.
La Salle: The Explorers have made a 3-pointer in 786 straight games, the 13th-longest streak in the nation. … La Salle has lost three straight games.
Villanova: F Kris Jenkins was benched for a minor academic infraction. Phil Booth got the start. Jenkins scored three points and Booth had 10. … The Wildcats had 13 assists on 14 baskets in the first half. … Coach Jay Wright emptied the bench with 2:48 left.
La Salle returns from a long break for exams Dec. 22 at the Palestra against Miami.
Villanova plays Saturday at No. 10 Virginia.
The Palestra to host doubleheader in January to commemorate Big 5’s 60th anniversary
When it comes to rivalries in college sports, the majority of them tend to focus on two programs that play on a frequent basis. That’s what makes the Big 5 different, in that it matches five programs in the Philadelphia metropolitan area (La Salle, Penn, Saint Joseph’s, Temple and Villanova) who meet annually with the winner being crowned “league” champion for that particular year.
And with the Big 5’s 60th anniversary coming in 2016, it was announced Wednesday that the Big 5 will bring back an old tradition for one night in January.
The old tradition: a doubleheader at The Palestra, which through the years has hosted many Big 5 games (including many that didn’t involve the Quakers before teams began hosting their home games on their respective campuses). The games will be held January 20, with La Salle hosting Temple and Penn hosting Saint Joseph’s.
“The Athletics Directors wanted to do something very special to celebrate this unique achievement,” Big 5 Executive Director Steve Bilsky said in the release. “We thought nothing would capture its history better than a competition to be held in the famed Cathedral of Basketball.
“The fact that we were able to pull it off in a very challenging college basketball scheduling environment is a credit to the AD’s, coaches, and conference commissioners, all of whom displayed tremendous perseverance and flexibility.”
The last time there’s been a doubleheader involving Big 5 teams was back in December 2004, with Temple beating Villanova, Penn taking care of La Salle and Saint Joseph’s falling to Drexel. Drexel, which wasn’t a Division I member when the Big 5 was created (they didn’t move up until the 1973-74 season), is also a city school but is not part of the Big 5.
This plan to bring back the Big 5 doubleheader, if only for one day, will be a fun “flashback” in a sense to what the rivalry used to be. That’s something that was lost once being in a conference took on greater importance in the 1980’s, which impacted the way in which some programs scheduled in non-conference play.
While it may be difficult for the Big 5 to go back to the days of consistent doubleheaders at The Palestra for that reason, hopefully this leads to the powers that be considering an annual doubleheader for future seasons.
La Salle guard will transfer and become immediately eligible
La Salle guard Khalid Lewis is transferring from the program and will be immediately eligible as a graduate transfer, according to a report from Alex Kline of The Recruit Scoop. The 6-foot-3 Lewis can man a bit of both guard spots and had a promising start to his college basketball career at Delaware before two largely underwhelming seasons with the Explorers.
Lewis started every game as a freshman at Delaware and helped lead them to a CBI appearance before transferring to La Salle. In the Atlantic 10, Lewis struggled to regain his freshman form, although he did have a much stronger junior season. In his junior campaign, Lewis played around 27 minutes per game and averaged 6 points, 2.2 assists and 2 rebounds per game for the Explorers.
With the market thinning on available guards who can help next season, it will be interesting to see which schools put out feelers for Lewis. If Lewis desires to play at a high-level program, he could fit in nicely as a reserve since he has plenty of experience, while he could likely step in and earn big minutes at a lower level program.
La Salle has some young point guards that will get more playing time with the departure of Lewis as Amar Stukes and Johnnie Shuler are likely to benefit.
Former South Carolina power forward Demetrius Henry transferring to La Salle
Having already landed two transfers this offseason in the form of point guard Pookie Powell and small forward B.J. Johnson, La Salle picked up a commitment from a third player who began his career at another Division I institution Saturday morning.
Demetrius Henry, a 6-foot-9 power forward who played two seasons at South Carolina before deciding to transfer in search of more playing time, announced on Twitter that he’s headed to La Salle. Like the other two transfers added by head coach Dr. John Giannini, Henry will have to sit out the 2015-16 season. From there he’ll have two seasons to play for the Atlantic 10 program, which was in need of addition interior options.
Henry averaged 6.0 points and 3.6 rebounds in 19.5 minutes per game last season. He’ll be the fifth player joining the program this summer, with freshmen Karl Harris and Rokas Ulvydas being the players who are eligible to compete immediately for the Explorers.
La Salle, which finished last season with a 17-16 record, will need to account for the loss of three front court contributors led by Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack but they do return talent on the perimeter. Leading scorer Jordan Price (17.2 ppg) returns in 2015-16, as do fellow guards Amar Stukes, Cleon Robers and Khalid Lewis.
Commencement speech an important honor for La Salle’s Jerrell Wright
The spring can be an anxious time for college basketball seniors approaching graduation, as the need to finish strong academically combines with workouts geared towards lining up a job in professional basketball. That’s what awaited La Salle forward Jerrell Wright at the conclusion of his senior season, but there was something else on the Philadelphia native’s plate.
That additional responsibility was a special one however, as he was selected by his high school alma mater (Dobbins Tech in Philadelphia) to give the school’s commencement speech June 16. The opportunity arose when Rich Yankovich, who was the head basketball coach at Dobbins for 34 years, reached out to a former player who’s now an assistant at La Salle.
“One of the old coaches at Dobbins, Coach Yank, contacted coach [Horace] Owens and recommended that I speak at Dobbins’ graduation,” Wright told NBC Sports earlier this week when asked about how he landed this opportunity.
While Wright was certainly productive on the court for the Explorers, averaging 12.1 points and 6.5 rebounds per game and earning second team All-Big 5 honors, just as important was what he was able to do as a leader and in the classroom. Wright recently graduated with a degree in sociology, and throughout his time at La Salle the Philadelphia native made strides both on and off the court.
“The way he grew was in confidence, especially socially and academically,” Dr. Giannini noted when asked about Wright’s development. “There are some really good students coming out of Philadelphia public schools, but there are others who are underprepared and college can be a big adjustment. I think it was an adjustment for Jerrell, but in his first year he won our program’s most dedicated student award.”
Wright’s commitment to doing well academically began even before he set foot on the La Salle campus, as before his senior year of high school he did something that few basketball players with Division I ambitions would be willing to do.
“The other really neat thing about Jerrell is that he chose not to play AAU going into his senior year,” Dr. Giannini said. “He had already committed to La Salle, and he chose not to play to focus on his academics to make sure he would be eligible as a freshman. How many kids are not making that decision and wind up not being eligible? He was making good decisions even before he got to La Salle, and he continued to work hard.”
Given his path to a college degree, which opens up doors outside of a possible career in professional basketball, Wright’s a good choice to address young people sitting in a position similar to his. And this won’t be the first speech that Wright’s given at his alma mater either.
Last summer Wright’s jersey was retired, a high honor at any school but especially at one that has produced some of the talent attended Dobbins Tech. Among those who played at the school are the aforementioned Owens, the late Hank Gathers, his close friend and Loyola Marymount teammate Bo Kimble, current South Carolina head coach Dawn Staley, and former La Salle guard Doug Overton (just to name a few).
But the nature of this particular speech, one in which his achievements including basketball are the reason for his selection, makes it special in a different way for Wright.
“It’s an honor for them to bring me back, knowing how many people have graduated from Dobbins who have been successful in life,” Wright said. “I would like to thank them for allowing me to come back and speak. I’m proud that out of all the people they could have picked, they picked me to come back and give the commencement speech.”
Wright will be the second person with a connection to the La Salle program to give a commencement speech this spring. Dr. Giannini returned to his alma mater, Fenwick High School in Oak Park, Illinois, to give the keynote speech at that school’s graduation in late-May. And the coach has been one of the people who have assisted Wright as he goes through the process of planning a speech that’s different than the one he gave last year.
“It’s been tough because this speech isn’t based [solely] on basketball, but on graduation overall,” Wright said when asked how the process was going, noting that he was nearly finished with the speech. “It’s been tough, but I’ve had the help of Coach G and my academic advisor Christine [Cahill] and we got through it.”
People from many walks of life give commencement speeches, from the internationally famous to those whose greatest impact is felt within their own community. For some students, the words they most identify with come from those who have lived the experiences they’re going through themselves. And regardless of what he managed to do on the basketball court, Wright’s growth in other areas are what make him a quality influence for the youth of his neighborhood, and why he was chosen to speak at his high school alma mater.
“When you hear a message from one of your own who just a few years ago was in your position, a person who really had to work to get to where he is, the kids immediately recognize that,” Dr. Giannini said of Wright. “‘This guy had to work hard like me, and now he’s got a college degree, is on the verge of playing professional basketball and will get a good job whenever basketball’s over with.’
“I think the phrase “role model” is used a lot by adults and kids think it’s a little bit corny, but I really think they do look to Jerrell as a role model.”