St. Joseph's tops La Salle in clash between Big Five rivals

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Saint Joseph’s James Demery dunks the ball during a game against La Salle at Hagan Arena on Saturday, March 3, 2018. Saint Joseph’s won 78-70.

Going by overall records, the only intrigue about Saturday’s game between St. Joseph’s and La Salle was that it was a Big Five game between longtime rivals.

In terms of the upcoming Atlantic Ten tournament, however, the potential implications were intriguing.

The Hawks entered the Senior Day game knowing that they needed a win to keep alive any hope for a fourth-place finish in the regular-season standings and a double bye in the tournament, which starts Wednesday in Washington.

La Salle was at the other end of the spectrum. The Explorers came into Saturday in 12th place in the league, slated to play an opening-round game in the A-10 tourney on Wednesday. The Explorers knew, however, that a win would have given them a slight possibility of moving into 10th place, getting a bye to Thursday’s first round of the tourney.

St. Joe’s took advantage of the extra motivation.

Seniors James Demery scored 18, while Shavar Newkirk had 16 points and four assists in their final game at Hagan Arena, leading lead the Hawks to a 78-70 victory over La Salle.

Jai Williams, Michael Booth, Christian Vega and Kyle Thompson were also honored on Senior Day.

Saint Joseph’s (15-15, 10-8) had a remarkable finishing stretch after riding a five-game losing streak and sitting five games under .500 a week into February. The Hawks won six of the final seven games of the regular season.

“These guys were basically on the deck, and then were stepped on while on the deck,” St. Joe’s coach Phil Martelli said. “To pick themselves up and finish 6-1, I’m impressed.

“What they went through – six body blows of losing games in this league with the last ball, either for us or against us, in the air to win, lose or go to overtime. You just can’t take too many of those. Even a mature team, it would force them to cover up, and this isn’t a mature group. But they have stepped up. They’ve represented this program well by how they finished this season.”

The Hawks earned their reward later on Saturday when George Mason lost to Richmond and St. Louis lost to St. Bonaventure. Both finished 9-9 in the league to leave St. Joe’s as the fourth seed. The Hawks will play at 2:30 p.m. on Friday.

La Salle (13-18, 7-11) has had its share of tough losses, too. The Explorers were down, 68-65, with three minutes left, when the Hawks used a 7-0 run to put the game out of reach. The 12th-seeded Explorers will play 13th-seed Massachusetts (12-19, 5-13) at 6 p.m. on Wednesday.

“We made too many mistakes,” La Salle coach John Gianini said. “All of our kids did a lot of good things and gave effort. But if you go down the line, I can find one or two plays that were mistakes. Eight people with one or two plays and 10 or 15 bad plays and a loss.

“The difference between success or failure in what we do is tiny. Too often, we’ve been off, whether that was one or two plays as a team or one or two per player.”

Pookie Powell, who missed the last game with an injury, had 26 points and six assists for La Salle.