La Salle downs St. Joseph's in a desperation thriller

Jamir Moultrie, right, of La Salle reacts after hitting a 3-point shot against St. Joseph’s on Feb. 3, 2018.

This was not a Big Five game. That will be when La Salle and St. Joseph’s have their Atlantic 10 rematch in the last game of the regular season on March 3 at Hagen Arena.

What occurred between the Hawks and Explorers on Saturday at Tom Gola Arena, however, meant more than city bragging rights.

This was a battle of survival between two teams still struggling to salvage something out of disappointing seasons.

St. Joseph’s came to 20th and Olney having lost three straight and five of seven. La Salle had just been smacked by Davidson by 19 points for its sixth loss in eight games.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
B.J. Johnson of La Salle dunks against St. Joseph’s late in the 2nd half.

Somebody was going to get a much-needed victory and each was desperate to make sure it was them and not the other guy.

With a sellout crowd in La Salle’s Gola Arena, Jamir Moultrie drained a three-pointer to break a tie with 1:16 left and then La Salle made six of six free throws in the final 40 seconds as the Explorers won the “Desperation Bowl,” 81-78.

Atlantic 10 leading scorer B.J. Johnson scored 25 points and set two personal milestones for the Explorers. The senior transfer from Syracuse passed the 1,000-point career mark and also passed his father on the La Salle all-time scoring list. Johnson has 894 points in less than two seasons. His father, Bob, had 878 points from 1986-90 at La Salle.

Johnson hurt a knee but still played 39 minutes. Explorers coach Dr. John Giannini said it was too early to know if it will be a lingering injury.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
B.J. Johnson of La Salle is helped by their medical staff during their game against St. Joseph’s on Feb. 3, 2018. Johnson returned to the game and played through the injury scoring 25 points.

Moultrie scored all 18 of his points via three-point shots (6-for-10), while Amar Stukes scored 20 and Pookie Powell had 15 points and 11 assists for the Explorers, who trailed by 13 with less than three minutes remaining in the first half before closing the gap to 43-38 by halftime.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Shavar Newkirk of St. Joseph’s goes up for a shot against B.J. Johnson during the 2nd half of their game against La Salle on Feb. 3, 2018. Newkirk led all scorers with 30 points in a losing cause.

“An extremely gutsy win,” Giannini said. “We didn’t start out well but the game is 40 minutes. …You mentioned that the season is what it is, well, no, it’s not.

“Today was the halfway mark of the conference season, so there is no telling what the season is. We won’t know what the season is until March.”

The Explorers (10-13, 4-6 A-10) have a game at A-10 leader Rhode Island but the other six games are against teams in the bottom half of the conference standings.

St. Joseph’s (9-13, 4-6) saw its losing streak extended to four games with another close loss. Ten of the Hawks’ 13 losses have been by a combined 35 points – an average of 3.5 per game.

Shavar Newkirk had a game-high 30 points and joined James Demery has the second Hawk to eclipse 1,000 career points this season. Demery, who missed the last game with an ankle injury, returned to action with 21 points and 11 rebounds.

The Hawks, who were second in the nation in fewest turnovers, committed 13 to La Salle’s two.

Camera icon CHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer
Tears roll down the face of La Salle Assistant Coach Donnie Carr during a moment of silence for Rasual Butler, the La Salle great and longtime NBA veteran who died in a car accident along with his wife. Carr was teammates with Butler at Roman Catholic High School and La Salle. The moment of silence was before their game against St. Joseph’s on Feb. 3, 2018.