By Eric Dixon
January 22, 2019
The LaSalle High School Explorers entered the Neumann-Goretti Saints den last night prepared to defend their undefeated record against an energetic and determined, even if outsized, hostile host. The matchups were the talk of the afternoon. How would the shorter Saints deal with the size of LaSalle’s tall and skilled front line? Would Hakim Byrd continue his impressive play against one of the more underrated, but no less effective point guards in the PCL, Allen Powell?
After some scheduling mishaps, we finally got some answers to these questions and more on a chilly night in South Philly. Both teams were supported by vocal contingents that made their feelings known early and often throughout the contest.
As the game started it seemed as if the frigid conditions outside were affecting the marksmanship of both teams as both shot the ball poorly in the early going. N-G used a physical, energetic style of defense to get LaSalle rattled, creating a couple turnovers that lead to an early 8-4 lead for the Saints. The first quarter ended with the two normally high scoring teams combining for just 19 points with N-G up 10 to 9.
Coach Mike McKee, head coach of the Explorers, explained what he thought the early issues were related to. “(Neumann-Goretti) has a high talent level and you’re not going to be able to just dribble around them.” Once LaSalle started moving the ball with the pass they we were able to get better shots and were able to shake some the frost off their shots.
The highlight of the first quarter was the play of Allen Powell and Hakim Byrd, the teams respective point guards who combined for 9 points. Powell showed off his impressive first step and improving jump shot while Byrd used his defensive prowess and finishing ability to stoke his team to a tenuous 1 point lead. In the second quarter the visitors made getting Konrad Kizska going a priority. The 6-7 Princeton commit opened the frame with a three and garnered 7 points in the quarter. Kahlil Diarrah came off the bench to bury two corner threes to expand the LaSalle lead.
The Saints continued to see normally reliable shots fall short or go in-and-out. This offensive ineffectiveness was highlighted by Chris Ings, a Rider University commit and explosive scorer who came in averaging over 19 ppg, totaling just one point in the half. N-G scored a poultry 5 points in the second quarter, to trail 25-15 at the half.
The third quarter began with Ings and the Saints asserting themselves as they righted their struggling offense, netting more points in the stanza than they did the entire first half. Byrd, who scored 16 for the game, hit 2 threes. Still, with Powell, Titus Beard and Kiszka, who finished with 18 points, leading the effort, the Explorers were able to keep them at arm’s length as they entered the fourth with a comfortable 13 point cushion.
Neumann-Goretti again made an admirable run in the fourth with the charge being led by Ings and senior Ja’Cor Smith, who scored a team high 17 points in the game. However, the comeback was stymied by an untimely technical foul call that would have cut the Explorer’s advantage to 7 and provided some much needed momentum to the home team. Powell, who finished with 22 points, was sensational down the stretch from the line burying 7 of 9 in the quarter. He shot 10 of 12 from the charity stripe for the game.
Afterwards, Coach McKee was reticent in talking about his teams “ pleasantly surprising” 16-0 season thus far. “We are take them one game at a time. We been tested and were again tested tonight.” In his first year at LaSalle, is appreciative of the “veteran group” of players and the resiliency of his team throughout the impressive start.
Carl Arrigale, the legendary coach with 40 years of experience, is appreciative of the fact that it’s still early enough in the season for his 9-4 team, which now has two league losses, to get back on track. The current PCL landscape with its high degree of parity and lack of a truly dominant team reminds him of his third or fourth season when they had some early struggles and were still able “win the league from 4th place.”
Going in Arrigale wanted to play an uptempo “high possession” type game but McKee’s team was resistant and managed to control the pace and play their game. Coach Arrigale also thought his team’s impatience contributed to first half offensive woes. “We wanted to get inside their length and play inside out, but… they were in a matchup zone, which you have to treat like a man to man, and we got a little confused and lost patience.”
Coach McKee, a well-traveled former college assistant and NBA advance scout, was able to get his team to play with a even temperament and maintain control, even as N-G employed a frenetic, physical style of defense. This style caused the Explorers to enter the bonus before the 5 minute mark of the fourth quarter, when the officials seemed to tighten and penalize both teams for physicality or chippiness.
The star of the game was Allen Powell. He was humble after game, mirroring the even temperament that his team played within the close confines of the crowded gym. Powell noted that he didn’t vary his routine to prepare for his bally-hooed matchup with Ings and Byrd.
“I didn’t do anything (special). I prepare for every game the same,” he said.
Powell is one of the more heralded prospects in the area, but he said that is starting to change. He mentioned that his recruitment is starting to pick up. Although no offers have been extended just yet, he said schools such as Hofstra and California State Bakersfield have been in frequent contact.
“Allen has an impressive first step. Schools are missing out on him,” according to Coach McKee.
A lot of people seem to have overlooked Powell and his LaSalle High School teammates. That’s definitely starting to change.