La Salle battles but falls to Lonnie Walker, No. 11 Miami in Reading

Miami’s Lonnie Walker IV, a Reading High School graduate, drives on La Salle’s Saul Phiri during the first half at the Santander Arena in Reading.

READING – La Salle is about a 90-minute bus ride from here.

For Miami, it’s a 1,200-mile flight.

Yet Thanksgiving Eve at this city’s showcase, Santander Arena, was a home game for the Hurricanes.

Or, more to the point, a reason for fans of Reading High School to care. And a homecoming for 6-foot-5 guard Lonnie Walker IV, one of the nation’s top recruits, who led the Red Knights to their first state title last March.

“I’m on top of the world right now,” Walker had exclaimed that night after scoring a game-high 22 points in a 64-60 win over Pine-Richland in nearby Hershey.

This return must have felt pretty warm, too. For him, and all those who showed up to extend their hero a hearty welcome back.

Then the Explorers did their best to spoil the party. Especially B.J. Johnson. The final was 57-46, Miami. Pretty it wasn’t. But La Salle was in position to get its first win over a ranked team since February 2015.

“They’re a great team — big, strong, athletic, well-coached,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “They’re not going to let you get easy things. We went 0-for-15 [on three-pointers]. And they banked one\[in from three].”
The unbeaten Hurricanes came in at No. 11, the highest they’ve ever started out. Did we mention that senior Ja’Quan Newton, a Neumann-Goretti guy, is their starter at the point?

The Explorers, who’ve been playing good opponents, had lost two straight after winning their first three. Next up for them is unbeaten Temple at Tom Gola Arena on Sunday afternoon.

This was their fourth meeting with Miami in five seasons.

It was 6-5 La Salle after nine minutes. By the half it was tied at 19, when Walker — who was averaging 7.7 points off the bench in the first three games — made his first basket on a move through the lane just before time expired.

At that point, the teams were a combined 13-for-55 from the floor. And Miami had taken 13 more shots.

With nine minutes to go, it was still even. And La Salle was down two approaching the final media timeout. The Hurricanes then scored the next 10 points.

Johnson finished with 16 points and 16 rebounds. Pookie Powell scored 17.

Walker, who took eight shots, had five points in 27 minutes. Newton, who took nine shots, had four points in 30.

The Explorers shot 15-for-52. They did go 16-for-17 at the foul line.

“Ideally you’d like to win a couple of these [tougher] games to develop a postseason resume,” Giannini said. “And we have some more great opportunities in front of us in the Big Five with Villanova and Temple. These wins are really hard to get. But if you can get a couple …

“We played great defense. They made us take some tough shots. And when we got some open looks we didn’t make enough of them. And they did.”