Ex­pe­ri­enced Ex­plor­ers prove to be too much for Pan­thers

La Salle un­beaten go­ing into new year

The Review - - SPORTS - By An­drew Robin­son arobin­[email protected]­tu­ry­media.com @ADRobin­son3 on Twit­ter

SPRING­FIELD >> A sign of an ex­pe­ri­enced bas­ket­ball team is the abil­ity to keep play­ing its own pace de­spite the best ef­forts of the op­pos­ing team.

Sun­day af­ter­noon, with Chel­tenham do­ing all it could to try and speed La Salle up, the Ex­plor­ers never took the bait. Once they re­al­ized what the Pan­thers were up to, the Ex­plor­ers let their ex­pe­ri­ence pave the road for them, they took care of the ball and passed it un­til the right guy got it.

It added up to a 68-56 win over Chel­tenham to wrap up the Ar­ca­dia Clas­sic at Ar­ca­dia Univer­sity.

“We had to make smart passes,” Ex­plor­ers se­nior point guard Allen Pow­ell said. “They wanted to speed us up, so we had to be strong with the ball.”

Chel­tenham looked at the game as a test, but also a con­test it planned to win. To that end, the Pan­thers were amped up at the start and their length and ath­letic burst did give La Salle some early is­sues, with Jalen Mick­ens fly­ing into pass­ing lanes for a cou­ple steals, throw­ing down the sec­ond for an em­phatic dunk.

After Zahree Har­ri­son found Jae­len McGlone for a three and a 9-8 lead, the Ex­plor­ers’ ex­pe­ri­ence took over. Ex­plor­ers coach Mike McKee is in his first sea­son helm­ing the squad, but he’s got a group that’s been through the ringer the last three years and knows what it has to do.

A 7-0 La Salle run fol­low­ing the McGlone 3-pointer helped the Ex­plor­ers to a 2115 lead after the first quar­ter.

“What we didn’t do was draw them to us to kick and at times, that left us a lit­tle stag­nant,” Chel­tenham coach Pa­trick Fleury said. “While we were driv­ing, we weren’t nec­es­sar­ily look­ing for the kicks and be­cause we weren’t scor­ing, that im­pacted what we did de­fen­sively. We kind of hurt our­selves with that, but it’s a good test for us and I’m glad we were able to see some of the things teams will try to do to us.”

The Ex­plor­ers started four se­niors on Sun­day in Pow­ell, Ti­tus Beard, Zach Crisler and Kon­rad Kiszka as they im­proved to 10-0 on the sea­son. It’s tough to win 10 straight games re­gard­less of sched­ule, but La Salle put to­gether a chal­leng­ing non­league slate to go with its first few PCL con­tests.

Pow­ell, who’s played very well this sea­son, led La Salle with 20 points while the Princeton-bound Kiszka scored 12.

Chel­tenham hung around in the sec­ond, get­ting the lead down to 23-22 when Har­ri­son found Kyin Healey off a drive-and-dish but the Ex­plor­ers again re­sponded. Keyed by their ag­gres­sion on the boards, which in­cluded 13 of­fen­sive re­bounds in the game, the Ex­plor­ers closed the sec­ond

quar­ter on a 10-0 run and led 33-22 at the break.

“Chel­tenham was ready to go but once we set­tled down and tight­ened up our de­fense, we started tak­ing care of the ball, spread­ing out and mak­ing good de­ci­sions and that was when the game changed,” McKee said. “Even when they wanted to try and get up and down and play at a faster pace, our ball han­dling and de­ci­sion mak­ing con­tin­ued to come through for us.

“(Har­ri­son) is re­ally a good player, so try­ing to con­tain is the mes­sage of the day. As long as you keep your body in front and make sure he sees more than one white jer­sey, from there you start trust­ing your team­mates hav­ing help be­hind you and it makes things a lit­tle eas­ier.”

After us­ing the first half to build their lead, the Ex­plor­ers used the sec­ond half to keep build­ing on it. Kiszka ham­mered down a two-handed dunk mid­way through the third, putting La Salle up 43-30 and the Ex­plor­ers closed the frame lead­ing 48-35.

The 6-foot-7 se­nior added an ex­cla­ma­tion point in the fourth, step­ping around a de­fender to flush a one­handed jam for a 64-42 lead and fin­ish­ing a 6-of-7 shoot­ing night.

“When we slow down and see the court, it lets us make bet­ter passes,” Kiszka said. “Once we see ev­ery­one shar­ing the ball, it car­ries down to ev­ery­one else. They were try­ing to speed us up a lot, so we fo­cused on grab­bing re­bounds and slow­ing down the tempo.”

Chel­tenham was paced by 17 points from Har­ri­son and 12 from McGlone, who flashed his ath­leti­cism on a num­ber of oc­ca­sions in­clud­ing a third-quar­ter put­back dunk. The Pan­thers end 2018 with a 6-3 record and while they’ve had some solid out­ings, they’re not sat­is­fied yet with where they are.

“We have to go back to the draw­ing board and fix some of the things we do so we un­der­stand how to work and get the next man open,” Fleury said. “To­geth­er­ness is the big­gest thing, our his­tory is a good his­tory but for us, we’re try­ing to un­der­stand what’s a good shot and what’s a great shot and be­com­ing bet­ter at giv­ing up a good shot for a great shot.

“There’s more than half the sea­son left and we’re look­ing to be bet­ter in Fe­bru­ary than we are in Jan­uary.”

Pow­ell said the eight se­niors on the La Salle ros­ter are try­ing to make this their best year. While the 6A clas­si­fi­ca­tion in the PCL is al­ways tough, the Ex­plor­ers want to get to the Palestra and by ex­ten­sion, se­cure the bid to states that’s eluded them the last three sea­sons.

La Salle en­ters 2019 un­de­feated, but they’ll be greeted by a ma­jor test right out of the gates with a matchup against 10-0 Bishop McDe­vitt in a PCL game on Jan. 4. Many of the Royal Lancers, who edged Sankofa Free­dom 47-45 at Ar­ca­dia ear­lier Sun­day, stuck around to watch the night­cap.

“Our guys are play­ing hun­gry and ag­gres­sive,” McKee said. “They’re work­ing to­gether on de­fense and they’re good enough play­ers to do those types of things. The re­al­ity is they’ve been through plenty of bat­tles and it’s pre­pared them for some of these en­vi­ron­ments.”

GENE WALSH — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

La Salle’s Allen Pow­ell scored 20 points to lead the Ex­plor­ers to a 68-56 win over Chel­tenham on Sun­day.

PETE BANNAN — DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

La Salle’s Allen Pow­ell scored 20 points to lead the Ex­plor­ers to a 68-56 win over Chel­tenham on Sun­day.

AN­DREW ROBIN­SON/DIG­I­TAL FIRST ME­DIA

Kon­rad Kiszka (left) and Allen Pow­ell paced La Salle to a win over Chel­tenham Sun­day.

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