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‘Cats Come Back to Defeat Explorers, 85-78

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Wright’s team struggled against his former assistant, but managed to gut it out.

NCAA Basketball: Villanova at La Salle Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Although this was the ‘Cats first time playing on the newly and grotesquely named MacQuarie Court at the Palestra, the rest of their visit to this historic gym and opening of the Big 5 went as it normally does for Jay Wright’s team. Despite some early turbulence and a halftime deficit, they gave Ashley Howard and the La Salle Explorers their eighth loss to open this season, 85-78.

Despite eventually coming up short, the Explorers surprisingly held the lead for the majority of the game, taking control for the first time at 8-4 after a Traci Carter (17 PTS, 8 ASTS) triple first put them in front following Collin Gillespie’s (15 PTS, 5 ASTS) fast break layup off the initial tip. Jay Wright unusually kept all his starters in the game until Moultrie uncharacteristically made the Explorers’ fifth field goal out of nine to open the game to make the score 13-9. Wright then quickly called timeout to insert Joe Cremo for Phil Booth, and upon entering the game he quickly hit a three. Booth, who finished with 19 points, up until his removal at the 13:28 mark had been the entirety of the offense following Gillespie’s opening bucket, and he exited the game for the first time with 7 points on 3-5 shooting. The fact that the last two shots were both misses likely prompted the quick reset on the bench.

Midway through the first half, Wright began to play his freshmen other than Saddiq Bey, who started once again. First in was Cole Swider(5 PTS) for Eric Paschall(27 PTS) at the 11:46 mark, followed eventually by a rare Jahvon Quinerly sighting, with the freshman guard coming in for Joe Cremo with 9:46 remaining. Although Swider looked pretty good on offense and made a couple shots early, this is where it began to look like the game could get out of hand against the winless Explorers. Whether it was the freshmen or veterans in the game, Howard’s players were simply unconscious from beyond the arc, and his team’s lead at its peak stretched to 38-26. After the under-4:00 media timeout finally was triggered with 2:09 remaining, Wright had obviously done some patchwork on his team’s perimeter defense, and importantly reinserted Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree into the game for Bey. La Salle failed to score after the stoppage, and thanks to a late jumper from Booth and two layups from Paschall, the ‘Cats went into the break down 42-39.

Coming out of the break Wright went with the same lineup that cut the deficit late in the first half, with Joe Cremo accompanying four fifths of the initial starters, replacing an uncharacteristically quiet Bey. After La Salle looked strong in the first couple minutes, with Miles Brookins getting to the line and Carter finishing a three-point play to make the score 47-39, the ‘Cats began to look more assured on offense. After going back and forth between drawing even and a few points down for much of the early parts of the second half, the ‘Cats took their first lead since 2-0 unexpectedly when Saddiq Bey converted a rare four-point play after a corner triple, to make the score 55-54. After a Paschall and-1 following a two-handed slam to make the lead 4, the ‘Cats never relinquished control again.

Despite never quite managing to regain the lead, Howard’s team kept the game close until the buzzer, with the ‘Cats lead only extending beyond 4 points once from the 12:44 mark when they took the lead to the 4:22 mark, and the difference between the two squads never extended to double-digits. With La Salle down three and trying to get back in the game late they fouled Gillespie twice; the sophomore guard converting all four opportunities from the line to effectively put the game to bed.