The defending-champion Roman Catholic basketball team will attempt to win its fourth Philadelphia Catholic League championship in five years at 8:30 p.m. Monday at the Palestra, while La Salle is in the title game for the first time since 1991, when it lost to Roman.
When the teams met on Feb. 1, Roman won, 73-67. The Cahillites eliminated the Explorers in the 2018 PCL quarterfinals on the way to their second championship in three seasons, a fact that neither team has forgotten.
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“I know they’re hungry and they’re coming for us,” said Roman senior Seth Lundy. “We always got a target on our backs. We just go out there and execute everything like Coach say, and that’s why we always win."
The teams play contrasting styles. Roman prefers to run the floor and has the athletes to do so. Seniors Hakim Hart and Lundy, St. Joseph’s and Penn State recruits, respectively, create fast-break chances, and finish above the rim and beyond the arc. Hart and Lundy combined for 37 points and three three-pointers in the PCL semifinals.
La Salle prefers to slow the game down and focus on getting the best shot possible. In the PCL semifinals, La Salle was able to grind out a 49-41 win over Bishop McDevitt, while Roman survived a 72-66 shootout with Neumann-Goretti.
“It certainly presents a challenge," said Roman coach Matt Griffin. “We like to play at a faster tempo. In the Catholic League it becomes a chess match, especially with no shot clock.”
With such different styles of play, the difference in who comes away with the title could be decided in the paint.
Each team features a 6-foot-9-inch big man, but they impact the game in different ways.
Roman freshman Jalen Duren’s presence in the paint affects the game on both sides of the floor. Duren can elevate and finish at the rim while blocking shots and collecting rebounds. Against Neumann-Goretti on Thursday, Duren had 12 points, 18 boards and 3 blocks.
Senior Rice recruit Zach Crisler had 14 points and showed his ability to stretch the floor with a pair of three-pointers, in addition to a pair of blocks and thunderous slam dunk in La Salle’s PCL semifinal win over Bishop McDevitt. In this season’s meeting between the teams, Duren posted 19 points, eight rebounds and a block, while Crisler added five points.
Against McDevitt in the PCL semis, senior Princeton recruit Konrad Kiszka was limited to nine points after he picked up two early fouls. Without Kiszka, the Explorers found scoring from junior Jake Timby, who had 14 points on 4-for-5 shooting from three-point range. Timby also had 14 points in the Feb. 1 contest against Roman.
“Maybe it helped because later in the game when [Kiszka] was out, we made a nice little run,” said La Salle coach Mike McKee. “Our guys felt pretty confident in each other.”
As the title game approaches, the Explorers aren’t taking this opportunity lightly.