SPRINGFIELD >> A gathering of NCAA Division I basketball coaches from the region, including St. Joseph’s University’s Phil Martelli, made the trek to La Salle High on Wednesday night for the Explorers’ home opener against Constitution.
With the considerable talent on La Salle’s roster, it certainly doesn’t figure to be the last time a number of college coaches will visit.
The question is this, however: How far will that talent carry La Salle in the rugged Philadelphia Catholic League?
The Explorers surely looked the part of a Philadelphia Catholic League contender when they posted an easier than expected 68-50 victory over Constitution, which played in the PIAA Class 2A championship game last year, as well as in four of the past five seasons.
“I think we have all the ability — all the talent — to be at the top of the league,” said La Salle 6-foot-9 junior Zach Crisler. “Our (12-year head) coach (Joe Dempsey) has said this is the biggest group of talent he’s had at the school.
“I think the biggest thing for us is to have that hard-working mentality every single night. We can’t drop a game in the middle of the season. We just have to be ready to bring it every single game in the Catholic League.”
La Salle (2-1) posted a disappointing 10th-place finish in the PCL last season, but the Explorers only graduated two seniors (Matt Paulus and Jarrod Stukes) from that team. The squad’s hopes are higher this winter, but moving up in the standings over the PCL’s powers is easier said than done.
So, to prepare for future league matchups against the likes of Archbishop Wood, Neumann-Goretti, Roman Catholic and Archbishop Ryan, La Salle has scheduled some big non-league tests in December.
Wednesday’s matchup against 2017 PIAA Class 2A runner-up Constitution was one of them, but the Explorers also have a game Friday at defending PIAA Class 6A champion Reading, games next week against Malvern Prep and Central, then the Benedictine Classic Tournament during the holiday week in Richmond, Virginia.
Dempsey said the Explorers impressed him against a solid opponent on Wednesday night.
“Hats off to the kids,” he said. “They came out focused and beat a pretty good team. That’s the team I think we can be. We’re not lacking talent; we just have to make sure that we’re mentally and physically tough every night and then have no regrets.
“Our success is going to be intangibles — how well we defend, how well we rebound, how cohesive we are and how well we communicate. I think we’re going to be able to score – not every night like we did (Wednesday), but it’s all little things that we’re going to need to do. It’s all cliché — (making) layups and foul shots, making sure we know who we have (to guard), and that kind of stuff. It’s not going to be X’s and O’s.”
Against Constitution (2-2), La Salle demonstrated strength in every phase of the game. Crisler and 6-6 junior Konrad Kiszka dominated in the paint, combining for 33 points. Sean Simon (11 points, including two 3-pointers) and Allen Powell (nine points) showed their ability to score from the perimeter.
Additionally, the Explorers displayed fine passing and teamwork. They had assists on 11 of their 12 first-half field goals, and on 15 of 21 for the game. Titus Beard contributed nine points off the bench, and La Salle combined to shoot a torrid 21-for-23 from the free-throw line.
“Our energy on and off the court was just really good,” Kiszka said. “I think we play well together. We just need to keep passing the ball, sharing the ball, shooting and communicating.”
Meanwhile, Constitution hopes that scheduling games against solid Class 6A teams like La Salle will prepare its team for another long postseason run. The Generals opened their season with a loss, but it came against a Mount Vernon team that is the defending Class 2A New York champion.
The game against La Salle was the second in a five-game sequence against Catholic League foes. The Generals also played West Catholic, and they have upcoming contests against Cardinal O’Hara, Archbishop Carroll and Lansdale Catholic.
“We just got outplayed (Wednesday),” said Constitution coach Robert Moore. “We had some chemistry issues tonight. It’s early in the season, and La Salle just took advantage of it. They got better shots, they rebounded the ball and missed only (two) free throws all game. Those things all add up.
“La Salle’s a good team. They’re young, and they’re going to be good next year, too. Obviously, all these coaches were here to see these guys, and they were impressed tonight.”
LA SALLE 68, CONSTITUTION 50
Constitution 14 14 9 13 — 50
La Salle 15 25 17 11 — 68
Constitution (2-2): Keshaun Hammonds 1 0-2 2; Hakim Hudson 1 0-0 2; Jahmir Williams 5 0-0 12; Jabari Merritt 4 2-2 10; Leeron Wills-Worthy 2 1-2 5; Damian Wall 3 3-4 9; Tyree Mitchell 3 0-0 8; Jahlil Davis 1 0-0 2; Abdul Riggins 0 0-0 0. Totals: 20 6-10 50.
La Salle (2-1): Allen Powell 4 0-0 9; Sean Simon 4 0-0 11; Konrad Kiszka 5 7-7 17; Matt McMahon 1 0-0 3; Zach Crisler 5 6-6 16; Emmanuel Freyre 0 1-2 1; Nick Hoffman 0 0-0 0; Isaiah Snead 0 0-0 0; Titus Beard 1 7-8 9; Kahlil Ashley-Diarrah 1 0-0 2; Pat Jennings 0 0-0 0; Jack Rothenberg 0 0-0 0. Totals: 21 21-23 68.
3-point goals: C-Mitchell 2, Williams 2; L-Simon 3, Powell, McMahon.
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