No. 13 Saint Louis tops La Salle for 16th straight
PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Jordair Jett was so physically dominant that La Salle coach John Giannini believes he has a future in the pros.
And not even necessarily as a basketball player.
Jett scored 19 of his 25 points in the second half, including the game-winning basket with 4 seconds left, and No. 13 Saint Louis extended its school-record winning streak to 16 games with a 65-63 victory over La Salle on Saturday.
“This is no exaggeration,” Giannini said. “If he doesn’t have a career in the NBA, I think he could in the NFL, if his 40 time is good enough. And I’m not joking about that. His strength and his mental toughness and his physicality are at the highest level you can find on a basketball court.”
Dwayne Evans added 14 points to help the Billikens (22-2, 9-0 Atlantic 10) improve to 9-0 on the road — the best undefeated road record in the country.
Jerrell Wright matched his career high with 21 points for La Salle (12-11, 4-5), which has lost five of six. Steve Zack finished with 15 points and 13 rebounds, and Tyreek Duren added 14 points for the Explorers.
After Duren tied the game at 63 with a driving layup with 33 seconds left, the Billikens held for one shot and isolated Jett at the top of the key. Deceptively quick at 215 pounds, Jett dribbled by his man and hit a tough layup in traffic.
“He wouldn’t have it in his hand if we didn’t feel good about it,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “We feel good about the pieces around him, too. He ended up driving the ball most of the time down the stretch, but Jordair’s a great passer. There was an opening, so he took advantage. If there wasn’t, he was going to make a pass.”
La Salle’s Tyrone Garland missed the potential game-winner from halfcourt at the buzzer.
Trying to beat their first ranked opponent of the season, the Explorers had the home crowd thinking about an upset when Duren drilled a 3-pointer with 1:15 left to tie the game at 61, capping a 7-0 run.
Jett responded by slicing through the entire La Salle defense and finishing a drive to put the Billikens ahead 63-61 with under a minute left.
Last season around this time, the Explorers defeated two straight Top 25 teams in Butler and VCU, which helped them earn the program’s first NCAA tournament berth since 1992.
But Jett thwarted the Explorers’ upset bid this time.
With La Salle leading 43-41 early in the second half, Jett scored 15 of the Billikens’ next 18 points to push Saint Louis to a 59-54 lead with 5:38 left.
“What we really needed was one stop,” Duren said. “We couldn’t really get a stop down the stretch.”
Mainly, the Explorers couldn’t stop Jett, who shot 9 for 14 from the field and 7 for 9 at the free throw line in his highest-scoring game since he poured in 31 points in a 59-58 win over Rhode Island on Jan. 7.
One of five key seniors on the squad, Jett is a big reason why Saint Louis is off to the best start in school history and hasn’t lost since Dec. 1.
“Our guys do a great job keeping things in perspective,” Crews said. “We’ve done extremely well and won a lot of games, but they don’t get caught up in that stuff.”
After trailing by as many as nine in the first half, La Salle took its first lead with 17:19 remaining on a basket by Wright, who scored the Explorers’ first seven points of the second half. Less than a minute later, La Salle extended its lead to 40-37 after Garland fed Wright for a thunderous dunk.
But after matching his career high in scoring with 11:22 remaining, Wright didn’t score the rest of the way as the Billikens began to clamp down inside on the Explorers’ two best big men, Wright and Zack.
“You can’t take everything away,” Crews said. “We picked our poison a little bit and it was almost deadly with those big guys.”
The Billikens went 2-0 on a trip to Philadelphia, handily beating Saint Joseph’s 65-49 on Wednesday.
Their win Saturday was a lot tougher. And it’s going to stay with Giannini for a while.
“I’ve done this for so long and I’m still shocked at how infinitesimally small the difference between winning and losing is,” the La Salle coach said. “One play.”