PHILADELPHIA — With the shot clock off in a tie game, it wasn’t a surprise as to who had the ball in their hands.
Saint Louis guard Jordair Jett dribbled out the clock with seven seconds left, drove left past a defender and hit the winning layup with 3.7 seconds left as the Billikens were able to outlast the La Salle Explorers 65-63 on Saturday.
“We wouldn’t have it in his hands if we didn’t feel good about it,” Saint Louis coach Jim Crews said. “We also felt good about the pieces around him for the options. He ended up driving the ball most of the time down the stretch, but Jordair’s a great passer. He had options, but there were openings and he took advantage.
“He was going to make the play, whatever play that was.”
Jordair Jett finished the game with 25 points, 19 coming in the second half, and added four assists.
Forward Dwayne Evans scored 12 of his 14 points in the first half.
La Salle center Steve Zack posted a double-double, finishing with 15 points and 13 rebounds. Forward Jerrell Wright scored 21 points and is now eight points away from 1,000. He also recorded eight rebounds.
Wright made most of his noise in the first half and the opening of the second half; he was held to three points in the final 17 minutes of the game. Zack scored a couple of late buckets but was held to six points and two rebounds in the second half.
“I have no idea what we did,” Crews said of stopping the Explorer frontcourt in the second half. “That kid was really good, so was Zack. We kind of backed our defense up a little bit, but I don’t have a great answer.”
La Salle guard Tyreek Duren was able to tie the ballgame with one minute left, hitting an open 3-pointer. Jett and Duren traded acrobatic layups to maintain the tie, but Jett got the last laugh.
Explorer guard Tyrone Garland’s half-court shot ricocheted off the backboard.
“We needed everything, but what we really needed was one stop,” Duren said. “We couldn’t get a stop down the stretch. We weren’t worried about our offense; we knew that was going to come and go. We had confidence that we’d get a basket and tie the game up, but we couldn’t get it done on the defensive end.”
The Billikens were efficient early on, using crisp passing and tough screens to find open shots. Saint Louis started the game shooting 9 of 12, claiming a 19-10 lead in the first seven minutes.
After a number of first-half runs by both teams, La Salle ended the half on a 9-2 run. That stretch was capped by Duren’s runner in the lane at the buzzer, tying the game at 33 heading into halftime.
After a productive first half, Wright helped the Explorers take their first lead two minutes into the second half. The forward scored the first seven points of the half for La Salle, highlighted by an alley-oop set up by guard Tyrone Garland.
After Saint Louis guard Austin McBroom hit a 3-pointer from the corner midway through the second half, Jett took over. The senior guard scored 11 straight points and 15 overall during an 18-11 run that gave the Billikens a five-point lead.
“He’s super strong,” La Salle coach John Giannini said of the senior guard. “If he doesn’t have a career in the NBA, I think he could in the NFL if his 40 time is good enough. I’m not joking. His strength, his mental toughness and his physicality is at the highest level you could find on a basketball court. He’s going to go to the basket and he does it against everybody.”
Saint Louis was able to hold onto the lead late because of an impressive showing from the foul line. The Billikens hit their first seven free-throw attempts and finished 13 of 15 (86.7 percent).
NOTES: Saint Louis extended its conference record to 9-0, its best Atlantic 10 start since it joined the conference in 2005-06. The school’s previous best start was 2-0 during the 2009-10 season. … Billikens guard Jordair Jett and Explorer guard D.J. Peterson grew up outside Minneapolis (Jett from St. Paul, Peterson
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