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La Salle doesn’t back down, finally tops Roman Catholic in PIAA-6A quarters

PHILADELPHIA >> Zach Crisler’s hard screen was whistled for an foul, but the senior saw it as maybe a necessary trade off to show that this time the La Salle boys basketball team was not going to be intimidated by Roman Catholic.

“It kind of hurt me in one sense — because I had to sit a lot because of fouls — but I think what kind of set that tone was when I set that moving screen in the beginning and kind of knocked (Louie) Wild over — and I hope he’s OK, Crisler said. “But it was just showed that all right we’re here, we’re ready to be physical with them.”

The Explorers  lost to Roman in the regular season and again in the Philadelphia Catholic League tournament final, but in the third meeting with a spot in the PIAA 6A semifinals on the line, La Salle was not going to be pushed around.

And after taking a first-quarter lead Saturday afternoon, the Explorers never wilted and were finally the side standing tall at the end against the Cahillites, holding off the defending state champs for a 55-47 victory in their quarterfinal matchup at Archbishop Ryan.

“Don’t let them push us around, Coach always says stand up to the bully,” said Crisler, a Rice commit “Last game, they kind of pushed us around a little bit and they had their way with us. We came out and made sure that wasn’t going to happen this time.”

Konrad Kiszka — who twice had to change jerseys in the game due to blood from a cut above his eye — scored team-high 16 points, Allen Powell finished with 11 points while Titus Beard chipped in 10 points as La Salle (26-3) earned its first win over Roman since 2015 — snapping a six-game losing skid to its PCL rival — and advances to the state semifinals for the first time since 2014 when the Explorers were state Class 4A runner up.

La Salle faces Pennridge — which topped Methacton 50-47 — Tuesday at a site and time to be announced.

“We just really came together. We don’t want to lose to them three times,” Kiszka said. “But I really just thought we came together as a senior class and then (Jake) Timby as well and just got the win.”

Hakim Hart, a Saint Joseph’s commit, hit a trio of 3-pointers in scoring a game-high 18 points — eight coming in the second quarter — while freshman Jalen Duren added 11 points for the Cahillites (24-5), who came up short in their bid for a fourth PIAA title in five seasons. La Salle held Penn State commit Seth Lundy to six points, all in the second half.

“First, I was just really trying to stop Hart,” said the Princeton-bound Kiszka. “He’s been their leading scorer all season, Catholic League MVP runner-up, so I think I did a pretty good job on him. We did a really good job on Lundy, too. And then offensively we were just trying to swing the ball, get the best shots we could and stay patient.”

In the teams’ previous meeting in the PCL final, the Explorers found themselves trailing 14-2 after a quarter as Roman rolled to a 64-40 victory in the Palestra. Saturday, the Cahillites took a 4-0 lead after a pair of Duren dunks but La Salle responded with the next eight points — the last four on Powell free throws after Wild was called for a personal foul then a technical foul at 2:53.

“We were in a little tentative in the PCL championship,” La Salle senior Jack Rothenberg said. “We weren’t really attacking so we tried to take the same concept of being slow but still be aggressive and get in the lane and make some plays.”

The Explorers led 14-9 after a quarter with a Rothenberg’s triple extending the advantage to 17-9 early in the second quarter. Roman worked its way back to even terms after a Hart three made it 19-19 but La Salle ended the half scoring five of the final six points — Beard’s two free throws at 17.8 seconds giving the Explorers a 24-20 edge at the break.

A Powell three to start the third made it 27-20 with a Kiszka three-point play at 6:34 pushed La Salle’s lead to 30-21. After Powell’s two free throws put the Explorers up 34-27 with 4:37 in the third, Two from Hart and a Justice Williams three-point play on a jumper had the Cahillites within 34-32 at 3:42 before a Beard putback.

Roman got it margin down to two again after two Hart foul shots at 2:13 but Kiszka’s reverse layup rattled in and Explorers went to the fourth up 38-34.

Holding the lead, La Salle was in no hurry on offense in the fourth. Up 40-25, the Explorers worked the ball around before finding Timby in the corner for a triple and a 43-25 advantage.

“I can’t remember when he’s missed that shot,” Kiszka said. “That left corner’s all his. I trust him, I just threw him the ball, he knocked it down like he always done.”

Roman was within five at 44-39 with 2:41 remaining after Lundy was fouled taking a three and made the last two at the line. But another patient possession for La Salle ended with Crisler collecting his only two points with a one-handed slam off a Kiszka assist.

“Points, I could care less about points or any stats if we can win any game like that,” Crisler said.

Lundy’s free throw at 2:02 made it 46-40 but with the Explorers navigating the Roman full-court pressure, the Cahillites were forced to foul and La Salle was on target from the line — making six straight free throw to go up 52-40 with 62 seconds remaining.

“It’s like they always say, it’s hard to beat a team three times,” Rothenberg said. “And we just weren’t at full strength when we played them the first two times and I was just chomping at the bit to get back in there. And we just played a hard game, everyone worked together and got shots and it went our way.”

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