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Defense helps Roman Catholic edge La Salle in PCL clash

Roman Catholic's Seth Lundy makes a power move on La Salle's Zach Crisler during their game on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (Rick Cawley/For Digital First Media)

PHILADELPHIA >> Chalk it up as another thriller in the Philadelphia Catholic League.

Inside Roman Catholic’s gym Monday afternoon, the host Cahillites and visiting La Salle Explorers put together yet another wildly entertaining game full of twists, turns and dramatics, the latest in a season full of them. The teams exchanged leads twice in the final 1:13 and both sides showed plenty of resolve.

Thanks to a couple timely defensive plays, Roman held court and emerged with a 65-62 victory in the afternoon clash.

“This league is so competitive and you have to credit your opponent,” Roman coach Matt Griffin said. “La Salle did a terrific job executing their stuff offensively, they made it really difficult to guard and they have really good players. Even though you get a lead, they’re a good team and it’s hard to maintain.”

Hakim Hart was the fourth-quarter hero for Roman (11-5, 6-2 league), scoring six of his 16 points in the final quarter and turning his steal with 32 seconds left into a go-ahead bucket and the eventual game-winner. While Allen Betrand, Seth Lundy and Lynn Greer III garner much of the attention on Roman, Hart is a 1,000-point scorer and his defense helped Roman greatly.

The senior had a steal earlier in the fourth with about 4:05 left that started a roughly 30-second spurt by Roman that saw the Cahillities get three straight steals and turn them all into buckets for a 60-51 lead with 3:39 left. Hart had the first swipe and score, Lundy turned a steal into a dunk and after Greer couldn’t finish off his steal, Hart was there to clean it up.

“He’s an underrated defensive player, he has long arms and can use them,” Griffin said. “I was proud of our team for defensively executing. Down one, a lot of times you may get over-zealous and foul but we guarded and Hakim came up with a great defensive stop. That was our ability to stay together in a difficult scenario.”

La Salle (12-6, 5-4), to its credit showed a lot of heart throughout the game. Roman led most of the way, but even staring down 11 and nine-point holes in the second half, the Explorers continued to fight back. Even after the barrage of three steals and scores, La Salle held course and not only clawed back in, but took a lead.

“They could have folded, I told them I was dejected after we had that one stretch against their 1-3-1 with the three turnovers,” La Salle coach Joe Dempsey said. “I told them they picked me up, I didn’t do anything, I was proud of the way we responded. When we play like that for a whole game, our season will end the way we want it to.”

La Salle’s Sean Simon tries to get to the hoop on Roman Catholic’s Seth Lundy during their game on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (Rick Cawley/For Digital First Media

Hart was perfect from the floor, shooting 6-of-6 and got Roman off to a hot start with a couple first quarter 3-pointers. Lundy, who led Roman in scoring, was electric in the second quarter, scoring 11 straight points after assisting the first hoop of the quarter for his team.

A junior wing, Lundy also buried a three early in the third for a nine-point edge that Betrand would stretch out to 11 with 5:40 left in the quarter. La Salle fought back, led by Sean Simon, Titus Beard and Konrad Kiszka, to get the lead down to 48-45 heading into the final frame.

Simon was spectacular for the Explorers, scoring a game-best 22 points but also serving up seven assists and three steals.

“I’ll take 1,000 Sean Simons,” Dempsey said. “He’s got heart, he cares, he’s tough. Just a great kid, a great teammate, a great player and we’re lucky he’s on our side.”

Kiszka was also a welcome addition for La Salle after missing the last few games with an injury. While he didn’t start, the junior was a huge spark off the bench, scoring 16 points and showing little rust with three dunks and constant aggression.

Dempsey said they don’t want to force Kiszka into too much too soon, but Roman’s narrow court helped because it was less ground to cover and the forward could play more of a straight-line style.

Zach Crisler, La Salle’s 6-foot-9 junior forward, scored eight with seven rebounds and was glad to see Kiszka back running the floor.

“It’s phenomenal, that was probably the best I’ve ever seen him play,” Crisler said. “He was getting to the rim, he had those dunks, his energy and effort was tremendous.”

La Salle handed Bonner-Prendie its first league loss last week but still finds itself 5-4 in the PCL with the league playoffs looming. With at least seven teams looking like they could challenge for the title and a few more capable of an early upset or two, the Explorers know they still have to fight through the last two weeks of the season.

“We lost our poise,” Crisler said of the fourth quarter. “We fought back in a tremendous way after that. We didn’t stop playing. I’ve said it before, I think it shows our maturity, we all care so much about the program. We have a four-game season left and we’re playing as hard as we can every second and we’re not willing to just lay down and die.”

La Salle’s Konrad Kiszka tries to tip ball away from Roman Catholic’s Lynn Greer III during their game on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (Rick Cawley/For Digital First Media)

John Kelly came up clutch for Roman as well in the fourth, knocking down four free throws, including a pair with 1.2 left to put Roman up three after La Salle had missed a potential go-ahead 3-pointer.

Roman, which made it to the PCL semifinals at the Palestra last season, is now 6-2 in the league and trying to secure a home game in the quarterfinal round.

“It wasn’t pretty, but you have to win ugly in this league,” Griffin said. “A win’s a win. We have to learn from our mistakes and build on what we’re doing well, continue to build and get better. Ultimately, we want to be playing our best basketball in February and that’s right around the corner.”

ROMAN CATHOLIC 65, LA SALLE 62
LA SALLE 10 19 16 17 – 62
ROMAN CATHOLIC 14 19 15 18 – 65
La Salle: Sean Simon 5 9-10 22, Allen Powell 3 0-0 7, Konrad Kiszka 6 4-5 16, Zach Crisler 4 0-0 8, Khalil Diarrah 1 0-0 2, Titus Beard 2 0-0 5, Jack Rothenberg 1 0-0 2. Totals: 22 13-15 62.
Roman Catholic: Seth Lundy 8 0-0 19, Allen Betrand 3 0-2 6, Lynn Greer III 2 6-9 8, Hakim Hart 6 2-3 16, John Kelly 1 5-6 7, Louis Wild 1 0-0 2. Totals: 21 13-20 65.
3-pointers: RC – Lundy 3, Hart 2; L – Simon 3, Beard, Powell.

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