IT WAS father-son night Wednesday at Gola Arena. And, in one case, grandfather night.
La Salle's B.J. Johnson, son of Bobby Johnson, sixth-man supreme on the Explorers' great 1989-90 team, was going off on one end from the arc. Lehigh's two-time Patriot League Player of the Year, 6-10 Tim Kempton, son of Notre Dame big man and longtime NBA player Tim Kempton and grandson of Vince Kempton, the center on Saint Joseph's 1961 Final Four team, was a very hard guard in the lane, as he has been during a career that includes 1,524 points and 818 rebounds.
Johnson had major help, especially from Jordan Price. La Salle took good shots all game, got a working margin early in the second half, led by 16 points with 11 minutes left and held off a late Lehigh run to win, 89-81, in an entertaining game in which each team shot brilliantly, Lehigh 57.1 percent and La Salle 52.5 percent.
With Johnson and Price, La Salle (3-2) has a scoring pair who will make the Explorers dangerous against just about any team on the schedule. They came into the season's fifth game combining for 33.3 points per game. They had 25 by halftime and 48 for the game, as Price scored 26 and Johnson 22. They shot a combined 16-for-29 from the field, 7-for-14 from three and 9-for-11 from the line.
"Every day is not going to be me and B.J.," Price said. "Today, we were on, so they were finding us and we were finding each other."
Last season, they played with and against each other in practice when Johnson sat out as a Syracuse transfer. Now, it's for real.
"I'm just thankful that he came here to join us," Price said.
When asked whether his father was at the game, Johnson smiled and said, "You didn't hear him?"
Bobby is just a touch enthusiastic when his son is playing.
La Salle coach John Giannini loved that three of his primary ballhandlers - Amar Stukes, Pookie Powell and Johnnnie Shuler - as well as Johnson, who has the ball a lot, did not have a turnover among them in 99 combined minutes. The coach also liked that Cleon Roberts (15 points, six rebounds, four assists) hit big baskets at critical moments.
The 6-10 Kempton attracted several NBA scouts, including Tony DiLeo and Courtney Witte, late of the Sixers. After putting up 24.4 points and 9.4 rebounds against a very strong schedule, Kempton was surrounded by La Salle big men Tony Washington and Demetrius Henry and hurt by foul trouble, scoring only 12 points on 11 shots.
"Tony and Demetrius deserve a lot of credit for being tough and hard-nosed," Giannini said.
La Salle had a great defensive plan on a real offensive star.
"We wanted everything he did to be difficult," Giannini said.
The win will look very good on whatever résumé La Salle compiles. The Mountain Hawks (2-4) are heavy favorites to win the Patriot League. They lost by three at Xavier on opening night, lost in overtime at defending Ivy League champion Yale, beat Ivy favorite Princeton in their only home game, won at Mississippi State and lost at Arkansas State, which has won at Georgetown and has just one loss.
"We are thrilled because we beat a really good team," Giannini said. "They'll be a top 100 team and they have a great chance to make the NCAA Tournament."
This was also the Ph.D. game, as the only two doctors/coaches were on opposing benches, Giannini for La Salle, Brett Reed for Lehigh. Which, when asked about that, set Dr. G off on a memorable riff about his intended Division III teaching/coaching 40-year path that veered wildly off course because he had too much success coaching at Rowan, including a national championship.
Was it a bigger chess match because doctors were involved, one questioner wanted to know?
"No," Giannini said. "We both went from him worrying about computer science and me worrying about human behavior to making more baskets than someone else. We've dumbed down a lot."