Mike McCall, SLU hold off LaSalle to advance to Atlantic 10 semifinals

Brian Conklin scored 14 points to help SLU knock off LaSalle to advance to the A-10 Tournament semifinals. (Photo: Mel Evans-AP)

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Saint Louis University hit nine free throws in the final minute to hold off LaSalle 78-71 Friday night to advance to the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament semifinals.

The Explorers trimmed the Billikens’ lead to just four points with 37 seconds left, then forced Conklin to burn the team’s final timeout on the inbounds play. Mike McCall responded for the Billikens out of the timeout, hitting a fast-break layup and the subsequent free throw to push the score to 74-67 with 28 seconds left.

“Every time the coach would call a time-out when [La Salle] made a run, and we would huddle together and say ‘they just made their run now it’s our turn,’ ” Conklin said. “It’s something that over the course of the season we’ve grown and when teams make a run at us, we just don’t get frustrated, we just make another run back at them.”

LaSalle tried to mount one last charge, but SLU forward Dwayne Evans blocked Ramon Galloway’s three-point attempt into the hands of McCall, who was fouled and hit the subsequent free throws to ice the victory.

“I thought our guys played hard. I thought they played very smart and with toughness,” coach Rick Majerus said. “Credit to La Salle capitalizing on our errors, omissions at times. La Salle is a good team, I hope they can get another chance, they deserve it.”

McCall finished the game with a team-leading 16 points. The sophomore guard hit just five of 11 shots, but was three for three from the charity stripe.

Jordair Jett hit four of five shots from the floor and four of five free throws for 13 points off the bench. Jett, who entered the game averaging six points per game, also had five rebounds for the Billikens, who out-rebounded the Explorers 28-27.

Kwamain Mitchell (15) and Conklin (14) also finished in double figures for the Billikens. SLU finished the game shooting 44.6% (25 of 56) from the floor and 45% (nine of 20) from behind the arc.

Dwayne Evans accounted for nine of SLU's 28 rebounds. (Photo: Mel Evans-AP)

LaSalle guard Earl Pettis led all-scorers with 18 points. He was one of three players to finish in double figures for the Explorers, who hit 25 of 56 shots from the field and eight of 20 from three-point land.

SLU trailed 2-0 early in the first half, but a Rob Loe layup followed by a three-pointer from Mitchell sparked a 14-0 run that put them ahead for good.

Despite limiting their opponents to just two points through the first eight minutes of the second half, the Billikens were unable to pull away, allowing the Explorers to claw within six heading into halftime.

Losses by top-seeded Temple and St. Joseph’s meant that LaSalle was the lone Philadelphia-area representative left in the A-10 tournament. After the game, Conklin and Mitchell admitted that they were surprised by Temple’s early exit.

“Philly has great basketball and, you know, it was surprising to see Temple and St.Joe’s go out, and they are a great team, they’re going to be great in a few years,” Conklin said. “Temple is going to be back next year, along with La Salle.”

Mitchell added: “Brian hit the spot, like he said, Saint Joe’s had a great team. Temple, it’s surprise that go they lost, but they’ll come back.”

SLU will take on Xavier in the semifinals Saturday afternoon at 2:30.

A-10 TOURNAMENT UPDATE:

(8) MASSACHUSETTS 77 (1) Temple 71

Jesse Morgan and Chaz Williams combined for 41 points to help UMass knock off top-seeded Temple 77-71 Friday afternoon in Atlantic City. The Minutemen used a 13-2 run, highlighted by three consecutive three-pointers, to build a five-point lead with just under three minutes left.

(4) St. Bonaventure 71 (5) St. Joseph’s 68

Friday’s second quarterfinal game featured 24 lead changes and nine ties, but in the end it was St. Bonaventure who prevailed over St. Joesph’s 71-68. A-10 Player of the Year Andrew Nicholson hit a free throw with 92 seconds left to break a 68-68 stalemate. St. Joes’ Carl Jones scored 24 points, 19 of which came in the second half, in a losing effort.

(3) Xavier 70 (6) Dayton 69

Tu Holloway scored 21 to help Xavier knock off Dayton.

Quotes via Atlantic 10.

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