The Hawks (15-4, 7-3 Catholic League) eventually reigned, 58-47, and afterward, senior wing Kyle Thompson gave the JV some love.
"We were kind of worried, because during the JV game, we saw how many fans La Salle had, but we knew we had to come out just as fast and make the gym quiet, so we could run our offense," Thompson said.
The Hawks cruised to a 16-5 advantage, thanks in part to 11 of Chris Clover's game-high 24 points.
"The great thing about him is that he knows that he has his backup right behind him with me, Tommy [Fox], Ricky [Slusarczyk], Alex [Stewart] and Ryan [Wall]," Thompson said. "Once he started scoring, it kind of calmed us down."
The Explorers (15-4, 7-3) netted two field goals in the first and one in the second. Charles Champion hit a three early in the quarter to give the Explorers a 5-3 lead. However, their next field goal was a running three by Shawn Witherspoon (nine points) just ahead of the halftime buzzer. David Krmpotich added eight points and seven boards.
Thompson, who finished with 10 points and five rebounds, spoke as if the game's intensity were still in his body. He rocked back and forth and paced as he talked.
"I mean, the rivalry is just unbelievable," he said wide-eyed. "Every year. Last year was a packed house. This game means so much to everyone on both sides."
The bleachers were packed, and fans spilled into standing sanctions in the corners and baselines. The increased heat produced slick spots on the court from moisture in the air.
Thompson, who lives in Mount Laurel, N.J., is familiar with tradition. He came to SJP in part because of head coach William "Speedy" Morris' rich basketball history.
Thompson hopes that continues next season as a walk-on at the University of Michigan under coach John Beilein.
Thompson said his grandfather, Michael Dupay, played football at Michigan, which led to Kyle attending Wolverines basketball camps.
Thompson also has an older brother, Bryan, who is a graduate student in Ann Arbor, Mich., and is studying kinesiology, a subject Kyle is contemplating.
Back to the game . . . Thompson hit a running three just before the buzzer near the same spot where Witherspoon ended the third quarter for a 45-24 Prep edge.
The fourth was mostly filibuster mode for the Hawks, who spread the floor to keep the clock tick-tocking.
Meanwhile, La Salle fought to prolong the game with timeouts and fouls, a strategy that yielded a late 10-2 run to close the gap.
But SJP wouldn't let go. Senior wing Fox added nine points. Slusarczyk added seven each of rebounds and points.
"Everyone was really doubting us, because we graduated a lot of kids," Thompson said. "And everyone thought this would be a down year. We wanted to prove teams wrong, even though you have the Neumann-Gorettis, Archbishop Carrolls and Roman Catholics. We just want people to know we're here."
On Twitter: @AceCarterDN