It had been over ten years since LaSalle hosted St. Joe’s at Tom Gola Arena with the majority of the match-ups between the two Big 5 participants taking place at the Palestra. The ending wasn’t a happy one for the host school as St. Joe’s got the 75-64 win in front of a nearly sold out LaSalle crowd. The 11am start was part of ESPN’s Rivalry Week and the atmosphere was pretty good for the morning start. This game was not the official Big 5 meeting since the two teams meet twice this year.
The biggest story early in the game was the foul trouble that LaSalle got themselves into. Their two best big men, Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack both picked up early fouls forcing LaSalle head coach John Giannini to play a much smaller lineup. About the foul trouble, an accepting Giannini said, “The mind-blowing difference (in the 2nd half) was Jerrell got to actually play.” Wright scored all 16 of his points in the second half and kept LaSalle within reach while going over the 1,000 point mark for his career. There were several moments in the second half that the Explorers were able to get the lead down to eight and at one point with just over two minutes left had the lead down to six with the ball but they missed that opportunity.
The story for St. Joe’s, as senior guard Langston Galloway put it after the game, was their “balanced attack.” The Hawks had five players in double-figures, led by Galloway’s 18. But in the second half, it was freshman forward DeAndre’ Bembry who led the charge for St. Joe’s. Like Wright, he scored all of his 16 points in the second half after going on a quick 7-0 run of his own in the first three minutes of the half after scoring back-to-back three point plays, the old-fashioned way.
A big difference in the game was that St. Joe’s shot 49 percent from the floor while LaSalle shot just 38. That combined with the balanced attack of St. Joe’s and the foul trouble for LaSalle was too much for the Explorers to overcome in their home gym.
After the game, St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli talked about playing at Tom Gola Arena, “What an honor it is to coach in a building named for not just a great, and arguably the greatest basketball player in Philadelphia history, but a great guy and a great man.” He praised the late LaSalle hero saying, “Tom Gola was special to all of us in Philadelphia basketball…and to have my team have an opportunity to compete in this building and to play really a solid game was a special day.”
With the win St. Joe’s has won 13 of their last 16 games and they are behind just undefeated St. Louis and VCU in the A-10 standings. LaSalle finds themselves at 4-6 in conference play just a year after their magical Sweet Sixteen run in the NCAA Tournament. These two teams will play their official Big 5 matchup on March 9th at St. Joe’, but Villanova has already won this year’s Big 5.