Courtesy of GoExplorers.com
PHILADELPHIA – Graduate student Amar Stukes matched his career high with 22 points, going an efficient 8-for-9 from the floor, as the La Salle University men’s basketball team used a dominant first-half performance to capture an 87-72 victory over Massachusetts at Tom Gola Arena at TruMark Financial Center on Wednesday evening.
Redshirt senior B.J. Johnson led all scorers with 26 points while sophomore Saul Phiri registered his fourth double-double of the season with 10 points and 12 rebounds for La Salle (9-12, 3-5 A-10), who shot just under 60 percent in the opening half to open up a 20-point lead at halftime.
After UMass scored the game’s opening bucket, Phiri found redshirt senior Tony Washington alone in the paint for a two-handed dunk. The teams traded baskets back-and-forth from there, as Stukes scored five quick points and tied the game at 7-7 with a three-pointer from the top of the key before the first media timeout.
A jumper by Washington later put the Explorers on top, 11-9, starting a 10-2 run for the home team. Sophomore Isaiah Deas extended the lead to 10 after going coast-to-coast for a transition layup, giving La Salle a 21-11 lead with 11:34 to go in the half.
The Explorers continued to fire on all cylinders, keeping the lead at 10 two minutes later after Johnson found senior Johnnie Shuler for a three, providing a 28-18 advantage.
The Minutemen pulled back within five, 28-23, as Luwane Pipkins knocked down a three with 8:28 left until halftime. The difference remained five at 30-25, but the final 7:30 of the first half was all La Salle, as the Explorers ended the half on a 17-2 run. Johnson sparked the run with a three, and Stukes fought through traffic to find Washington for an open slam to add to the lead.
La Salle opened things up when Johnson took freshman Miles Brookins’ pass for a layup and then stole the inbound pass and finished with a strong two-handed jam providing a 43-26 lead. Deas drained a jumper with 13 seconds left on the clock to close out an impressive first half for the Explorers with a 47-27 advantage.
Johnson, who scored 15 points in the first half, continued to feel it out of the halftime break, connecting on his first three field goals of the second half and giving La Salle a 55-31 cushion just three minutes in.
The Explorers pushed the margin to as many as 30 points, as Phiri connected on two three-pointers and Deas hit one in transition to put the score at 68-38.
A Pipkins three cut the UMass deficit to 18 at 70-52 with 9:18 remaining, but seven points by Stukes helped the Explorers maintain control at 81-57 with 6:37 to go. The Minutemen worked their way back to make it a 15-point differential, but that was as close as they would come as the Explorers cruised to victory.
Deas nearly recorded a double-double with 12 points and nine rebounds, while Washington chipped in 12 points and six rebounds. Pipkins tallied 25 points for the Minutemen.
La Salle will have a week off before traveling to Davidson on Wednesday, Jan. 31, with tipoff slated for 7 p.m.