La Salle dresses down Judge in Catholic League playoff game

La Salle fans in costume help set a festive mood in the Explorers' win over Father Judge.
La Salle fans in costume help set a festive mood in the Explorers' win over Father Judge. (RON TARVER / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER)
Posted: February 16, 2012

OVER THE FINAL 27 minutes, 52 seconds last night, La Salle High's student rooters went completely berserk.

They clapped. They screamed. They stomped. They also bellowed out chants and, down the stretch, crooned old-school songs such as "Build Me Up Buttercup" and "Ain't No Mountain High Enough."

All part of the wonderful master plan, folks.

First, let us tell you that the Explorers overwhelmed visiting Father Judge, 69-51, in a first-round Catholic League basketball playoff, thus earning a date at Archbishop Carroll in tomorrow night's quarterfinals (7 o'clock).

Among the witnesses: Cookie Monster, The Cat in the Hat, The Green Lantern, Tim Tebow, bunny rabbits, bananas, leprechauns, multiple referees, Dikembe Mutombo from his Denver Nuggets days . . .

The students (with some gals from sister schools mixed in) numbered roughly 200 and every single one was in costume.

Darnell Artis liked the bananas and the gorillas. Then again, he loved every single one.

"We appreciate everything everyone does for us, from our managers right to the fans," said the 5-7, 135-pound Artis, a senior point guard. "This was awesome. I couldn't believe how great it was. They gave us the energy we needed. They never sat down. Just kept it going."

This was Silent Night.

As baseball star Ryan Otis explained it, he and student council member Max Breitmeyer were checking out YouTube earlier this season, trying to find cool chants, when they stumbled upon a video concerning Taylor University, a NAIA school in Indiana.

"We knew we wanted to do it. Just didn't know when," Otis said. "We chose tonight."

At Taylor, the all-in-costume students are completely silent, and still, until Taylor scores its 10th point. Then they explode and maintain that enthusiasm for the rest of the game. As La Salle's rooters did last night, while swaying back and forth, they cap their performance by singing "Silent Night" in the waning moments.

Artis said he learned of the SN plans from sub senior guard P.J. Acierno, who coordinated the effort with Otis and Breitmeyer. Yesterday morning, Artis, Acierno and another backup senior guard, Sean Dougherty, appeared on La Salle's in-house TV station, WEXP, to explain the plans and stir up interest.

"A few guys on the team took a vow of silence through the entire day," Artis said, smiling. "Not me. I was talkin' it up and I loved being on TV. I like putting myself out there. Making sure people know who I am. Which is why I like playing point guard.

"P.J. was walking around all day not talking to anybody. He had 'yes' written on his hand. Anytime people asked him something, he just showed them that."

Beforehand, as cool as he hoped the whole night would be, coach Joe Dempsey was concerned La Salle might stumble early because of anxiety about trying to get to 10 points.

Um, forget that one.

The Explorers stormed to that number. Matt Rodden nailed two treys. Steve Smith drained two more, with the second coming from straight away, and all that marksmanship made it 12-0 with 3:52 left in the first quarter. The students, with football players mostly leading the way, jumped so high out of their seats, some of them might have been able to dunk. (OK, on 8-foot baskets.)

Artis was well on his way to six assists by then and, in the second quarter, he scored all eight of his points.

La Salle finished the 42-24 first half with nine threes on only 12 attempts. Smith and Rodden led the way with four and three. An inevitable cooldown followed and Smith (with two, he finished 6-for-9 en route to 20 points) was the lone Explorer to successfully visit Threesville beyond intermission.

Didn't really matter. Judge got no closer than 11 and most of its student fans left the gym with 2:31 remaining.

Entering this season, Artis had no idea how much he'd play. He just knew how much he wanted to play.

"I knew I'd have to earn a starting job," Artis said. "I worked all summer on making my shot better, improving my left hand, playing tougher defense . . . The more confidence I had, the more confidence my coaches could have in me.

"I know what I have to do. My job is to get us started. To facilitate. Then later, if my points come, that's fine. And right to side is Amar, and that always helps."

Amar Stukes is a star junior guard and the two have been playing together for roughly 10 years. Stukes' father, Dhaamin, was their coach.

"It's comfortable out there with Amar," Artis added. "I trust him. He trusts me."

Stukes totaled 14 points and four assists. Rodden had 11 points, while Smith and Ryan Winslow halved 12 rebounds. Brian Hennessey (19, three treys) topped Judge.

Artis, who lives on the 800 block of Price Street, not far from Chew and Chelten in East Germantown, is headed for Gwynedd-Mercy and plans to become a nurse.

"My mom and dad, Chan'el and Allen, are nurses, so I want to do that, too," he said.

Hmm. Were any nurses part of Silent Night? Someone's gotta have video. Maybe it's already on YouTube.

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