PHILADELPHIA >> Roman Catholic had the crowd, so the Cahillites gave all those people a show.
Between the dunks, the 3-pointers and the defense, Roman showed why it seems to enjoy playing at the Palestra so much. The defending Philadelphia Catholic League boys basketball champions made sure their title defense was never in doubt with a dominant first quarter capped by perhaps the game’s best highlight.
Regardless of which play ends up winning the argument, there’s no disputing the result as No. 1 Roman handled No. 2 La Salle 64-50 Monday night to win its second straight PCL title and fourth in the last five seasons.
“It means everything to me,” Roman senior Seth Lundy, who owned the fourth quarter, said. “I have three Catholic League championships, Roman has four of the last five. There’s just a tradition here. Playing at the Palestra, it feels like home to me. It’s like stepping on Roman’s court and hitting a jump shot, I’m comfortable here.”
When the teams met in February at La Salle, Roman had to scrap to earn a six-point win that ended up giving the Cahillites the top seed. While Roman (21-4) is used to the Palestra, playing at least one game at the revered gym each of the last four years, La Salle was new to the stage.
The Explorers (22-3) didn’t seem to have any jitters, but their first quarter start was one they’d certainly like back. La Salle shot just 1-of-12 from the floor in the quarter, getting a dunk from Konrad Kiszka to go up 2-0, then watching Roman score the next 14 points.
“That hit the nail on the head, I thought we were prepared mentally to play, the shots didn’t go it,” La Salle coach Mike McKee said. “We were competitive, but that’s a very good team. You get in a hole against them, it’s not easy but it’s not for a lack of trying.”
La Salle’s motion offense usually creates good shots. Against Roman’s athletes, it wasn’t quite as easy. The Cahillites like to be challenged on the defensive end and they didn’t waste any time showing just how engaged they were on Monday.
BOYS BASKETBALL END 1: Roman Catholic 14, La Salle 2
Cahillites the last 14, puncuated by Hart’s highlight slam pic.twitter.com/xpyXxxkVjj
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) February 26, 2019
“They were speeding us up,” Kiszka said. “Our plan was to slow them down but we just couldn’t and they sped us up. We have to keep taking better shots, make sure we finish layups and stick to the plan.”
The 14-0 run to end the first was capped off by a defensive play turned highlight. Roman’s Lynn Greer III tipped a La Salle inbound pass, kept it alive and found Hakim Hart running the floor.
Hart, who led all scorers with 21 points, provided the exclamation point, slamming home a dunk on a La Salle defender in front of the Explorers’ huge student section. As he watch the play, which went viral by the end of the game, on the Palestra floor, Hart spoke on its impact.
“It means a lot, I’ve worked hard my whole life for that,” Hart, who will play at St. Joe’s next year, said. “(Lynn) got the steal, it was a clear lane so I thought ‘let me try it.’ I had dunk in my mind the whole time, I didn’t even hear the crowd, I was in the moment.”
Roman led 25-13 at the half, then built a 17-point lead early in the third quarter when freshman Jalen Duren finished a break with a mammoth dunk. La Salle finally started to get some shots to drop, with back-to-back threes by Allen Powell cutting the lead down to 35-21 but Roman just kept answering.
Aside from the first quarter, Roman only out-scored La Salle by two the rest of the way.
The Cahillites most emphatic answer came from Lundy in the fourth quarter. After Kiszka scored to open the frame, cutting the Roman lead to 40-30 and giving the La Salle faithful hope, Lundy went on a personal 8-2 run over the next two minutes.
“We started running around a little on defense, we had Manny (Freyere) come in and he helped us pressure the ball,” Kiszka said. “We tried to hold them and made them shoot outside.”
Seth Lundy with his own poster, and-1, 48-32 Roman pic.twitter.com/otD7T8glwA
— Andrew Robinson (@ADRobinson3) February 26, 2019
A 6-foot-7 wing, Lundy threw down a dunk off Jalen Duren’s pass to put his team back up 12. After Zach Crisler hit a reverse to get back to 10, Lundy coldly drained a 3-pointer and after a defensive stop, the Penn State recruit threw one down on two defenders on a crafty dish from Hart, drawing contact and hitting the free throw to put his guys up 16.
“I was just trying to run the floor,” Lundy said. “My teammates did a good job of seeing me and getting the ball to me. It’s thanks to my teammates.
“We knew coming into this game we were going to dominate. I’ve said we haven’t played our best basketball and we knew we could take it to another level, so that’s what we did tonight.”
Lundy added another hammer late in the game, giving him 18 for the night.
Jake Timby led La Salle with 15 points, shooting 5-of-7 from three to give him a 9-of-12 mark from deep in two PCL playoff games in the historic venue. Powell added 14 for La Salle while Kiszka had nine.
With nine seniors on the roster, the Explorers knew they’d still accomplished a lot by getting to Penn, even if the final result stung. Now, they’ll regroup for a District 12 seeding game then turn their attention to their first state playoff run together.
“We’ve worked hard for this for four years,” Kiszka said. “It was awesome. Our students were great, I had a bunch of family in the front row, it was a great experience.”
Roman will play for the District 12 title then try to defend its PIAA 6A title from last year. The Cahillites won’t have Greer, who has been ruled ineligible by the PIAA’s new transfer rules, but his teammates are trying to win it for him.
“We know we can be beat by any team but we also know we can beat any team,” Lundy said.
“It’s all about attitude, it means go hard, keep pushing to the next play,” Duren said. “The seniors, they guided us young guys coming in. Even coming in here, they told us it would be a hostile environment so we came out, played team ball and got the win.”
Roman Catholic 64, La Salle 50
Roman Catholic 14 11 15 24 – 64
La Salle 2 11 15 22 – 50
Roman Catholic: Lynn Greer III 4 6-7 14, Seth Lundy 6 3-3 18, Justice Williams 0 2-2 2, Hakim Hart 9 1-2 21, Jalen Duren 1 0-0 2, Louie Wild 1 2-2 5, Rashaun Deas 1 0-1 2. Totals: 22 14-16 64.
La Salle: Allen Powell 4 2-3 14, Konrad Kiszka 4 1-2 9, Jake Timby 5 0-0 15, Zach Crisler 3 0-0 7, Jack Rothenberg 1 0-0 2, Khalil Diarrah 1 0-0 2. Totals: 18 3-5 50.
3-pointers: RC – Lundy 3, Hart 2, Wild; L – Timby 5, Powell 2, Crisler.