Murray wins battle of rookies as La Salle beats Fordham

NEW YORK - The race for the Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Year widened a bit, with La Salle's Aaric Murray making a statement at Fordham.

The 6-10 center got the better of Rams standout rookie Chris Gaston last night in a battle of two of the league's premier freshmen, propelling the Explorers to an 80-73, come-from-behind victory - doing so in historic fashion.

Murray, who finished with a game- and career-high 24 points, set La Salle's freshman mark for blocks in a season, fittingly snuffing a Gaston layup at 18 minutes, 49 seconds in the second half to enter the record books. He finished the game with four blocks.

"I'm the best rookie in the league," boasted Murray, who surpassed Travar Johnson's La Salle single-season record of 52 blocks, set in 1996-97. "Gaston is a good player, but I'm trying to be the greatest player . . . and the best freshman in the A-10. Like coach says, I'm just trying to get better every night."

La Salle (11-9, 3-3 A-10) needed every last ounce of Murray's record-setting evening, which included seven rebounds. The Rams, who got 21 points and 15 rebounds from Gaston, held a 38-35 lead at halftime and came within a game-tying three-point attempt inside the last minute. The Explorers opened up an 11-point lead with 7 minutes left before Fordham made one last push, clawing back within three with a minute left. Alberto Estwick missed a potential game-tying three-pointer for the Rams following a La Salle turnover by Yves Mekongo.

Fordham's last gasp turned into a free-throw shooting affair, but Parrish Grant and Mekongo sealed the win, each knocking down a pair in the final 35 seconds to close out the victory.

"We need to make those shots to win," Fordham coach Jared Grasso said of Estwick's three-point attempt. "We had a shot with a minute left, but we can't win games like this, missing shots like that."

Grasso praised Murray, calling the young big man a "future pro" and anointing him the best player in the A-10.

"He's the best player I've seen in this league," Grasso said. "I hope he's only here a couple of more years. Let him go to the pros."

La Salle coach John Giannini was impressed with Fordham's effort.

"They played hard; they're well-coached," Giannini said. "Gaston is a beast. He's intense. He's active. I had pictures of him up in the locker room and he made me look good."

La Salle has now topped Fordham (2-17, 0-7) in seven of their last 10 meetings.

"We knew Fordham would come out and play hard," said La Salle's Rodney Green, who scored 14 of his 16 points in the second half. "But, even with the injuries [to Kimmani Barrett and Ruben Guillandeaux], we showed tonight that we could step up."

Jerrell Williams scored 12 of his 19 points in the second half for La Salle.

The Explorers face a much tougher task Saturday vs. Temple.

"In our situation, with the injuries, we're just taking it one game at a time," Green said.