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La Salle falls to Roman Catholic at the buzzer

SPRINGFIELD >> La Salle played Roman Catholic even for 15:59 of the first half and 31:59 of the entire game Tuesday night. It was the final second of the first half and final second of the game that the Cahillites separated themselves.

Roman’s Jhamir Martin scored as time expired to give the Cahillites a two-point lead at halftime and Xzayvier Brown hit a fadeaway jumper as the fourth quarter buzzer sounded to knock off La Salle, 57-55, at La Salle College High School in a crucial Philadelphia Catholic League game.

“What can you learn,” La Salle coach Mike McKee said. “Can you learn to get that last possession? Can you learn at the end of the second quarter to get the last possession? We’re going to keep teaching what we believe is the best calculated risk-wise thing for us to do. Roman holds for the last shot and they get the last possession of the first half. We have to take a step up in IQ and understand that every possession is important and how are we going to be the most effective no matter who we’re playing against.”

“It’s a tough loss,” La Salle junior Sam Brown said, “but we fought til the end. There were some mistakes we made earlier in the game. We should’ve executed in those parts of the game, but we fought to the end. He hit a tough shot at the end. You can’t really do much about that.”

Horace Simmons hit a pair of free throws for La Salle (5-3) to tie the game, 55-55, with 18.3 seconds remaining. Roman brought the ball up the court and called timeout with less than eight seconds on the clock.

The Cahillites (6-1) got the ball to Xzayvier Brown and he never gave it up. The sophomore took the inbounds pass around halfcourt, drove right, pivoted just outside the paint and hit a jumper falling away with La Salle’s Jackson Conroy’s hand in his face.

“Just stay on your man,” Sam Brown said of the final defensive plan. “Coach McKee is a real smart coach – he had a feeling who was going to take the shot at the end and he took it and he made it. It was great defense, but it was just a good shot.”

It was the second time this season La Salle lost at the final buzzer. The Explorers dropped the season opener 67-65 against Neumann-Goretti.

La Salle rallied over the final 11 minutes to tie the game at 55. After falling behind 42-31, Brown completed a three-point play and Charles Ireland hit a pair of threes to get within five, 45-40, at the end of the third quarter.

Simmons started the fourth with a pair of baskets, Ireland hit a three and Brown drove to the basket to get the Explorers within one, 50-49, with two minutes to play. Brown went 4-for-4 from the free-throw line down the stretch while Roman’s Khalil Farmer hit a jumper and Toby Ojukwo hit two foul shots to keep it a one-point game, 54-53.

Ojukwo split a pair of free throws with 41.8 seconds left before Simmons tied the game at the charity stripe, 55-55.

“Just take smart shots,” Brown said of what the Explorers did down the stretch, “the best shot we can get. First half – I forced some bad shots, we all were making mistakes, but we made sure second half to pick it up and take the best shot every possession.”

Farmer led Roman with a game-high 25 points. Daniel Skillings added 11 and Xzayvier Brown had seven.

Sam Brown led La Salle with 17 points, Simmons added 15 and Ireland 14.

“They’re committed,” McKee said the trio. “They’re certainly competitive and they’re committed to winning. If we can just collectively raise our IQ. It’s not an effort-thing, which is beautiful, but we have to start taking that IQ step.”

La Salle needed a first-half run to get back into the game after a slow start. The Explorers fell behind, 17-8, before rattling off 15 of the next 17 points for a 23-19 lead. Sam Brown hit a free throw to tie the game at 28 late in the first half and Martin’s reverse layup at the buzzer sent Roman to the break with a 30-28 advantage.

The loss hurts La Salle for both the PCL and District 12-6A race.

In the Catholic League, the top two teams will play for the league championship at the end of the season. La Salle is three games behind first-place Archbishop Wood and two games behind Roman and Neumann-Goretti with head-to-head losses against all three teams.

“It’s a 6A game,” McKee said. “Now we have three losses. Roman has one, Neumann has one. This puts us in a difficult predicament, but we’ve got six games left. They’re all important. We have a great week ahead of us – we got West Catholic Thursday, we have Judge on Saturday, Ryan on Monday.”

Roman Catholic 57, La Salle 55

Roman Catholic 17 13 15 12 – 57

La Salle 12 16 12 15 – 55

RC: Brown 3 0-0 7, Flood 1 0-0 2, Farmer 7 7-7 25, Skillings 5 0-0 11, Martin 2 0-0 5, Anglin 1 0-0 2, Ojukwo 0 3-4 3, Radunovic 1 0-0 2. Total 20 10-11 57.

LS: Conro 2 0-0 6, Brown 3 10-11 17, Varano 1 0-0 3, Ireland 4 2-2 14, Simmons 6 2-2 15, Donohue 0 0-0 0. Total 16 14-15 55.

Three-point goals: RC: Brown, Farmer 4, Skillings, Martin. LS: Conroy 2, Brown, Varano, Ireland 4, Simmons.

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