Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)
A lot of things can happen in 10 years. Coaches can be hired and fired. Ten new recruiting classes are initiated into the college ranks. Teams can rise to the top, and fall to the bottom, all in the matter of 10 years.
La Salle had not beaten Villanova in 10 years. Until Sunday.
The Explorers finally overtook the Wildcats 77-74 in an overtime thriller at Tom Gola Arena, ending a 10-year drought. It was tied for the sixth-longest losing streak in Big 5 history. But that is exactly what it is: history.
“They beat us all the time. We really needed this win,” Ramon Galloway said.
Galloway, La Salle’s standout shooting guard, did everything in his power to ensure that the Explorers got the win, and snapped the streak that has haunted them for 10 years.
“The whole time in practice it was all we were talking about,” Galloway said. “We lost to them, and Coach G [La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini] was telling me I only got one chance to beat them, that is my last time playing them. Last year I had a concussion and I had to watch from my room on a laptop, and it was hard. I told my teammates that I only have one more chance to beat them, and I really do want to beat them.”
Galloway took the opportunity in stride, and led his team to a long-awaited victory. He had 26 points, four rebounds and four assists in the win that he wanted so badly.
“It is the greatest feeling ever, especially being from Philly,” Galloway added. “It was the greatest win ever to me and my team. It was a great game. They fought hard. We just wanted it more.”
Tyreek Duren has taken part in two previous years of playing Villanova, and coming up empty. Beating the Wildcats is not something he is taking lightly.
“It means everything,” Duren said. “Especially because since I’ve been here, we had them up pretty much the whole game, the last two years, especially last year. Everybody knows we lost it at the end. Besides the 10 years that we have had the losing streak, it is very important just to get this one win, to crack that losing streak and make everybody forget about the last two years.”
Duren certainly made the La Salle faithful forget about the past two years, as he scored 23 points, including the game-tying three pointer in regulation and the game-winning layup in overtime.
Dr. John Giannini had not beaten Villanova in any of his previous eight years coaching La Salle. Until Sunday.
“Those last two years really bothered us because we thought we were in position to win,” Giannini said. “Year by year since coach Wright has been there they have been a factor in the Big East. They are a great program. So of course that is a bar that you want to reach. And we got there. We felt like we had a chance the past couple years, and tonight our guys showed a lot of grit and got us over the hump.”
Giannini realizes that it is not just beating Villanova that is significant. With the win, the Explorers have one down and three to go on their way to a Big 5 title.
“Everyone who has talked to me about this knows how important the Big 5 is to me,” Giannini added. “I don’t worry about teams in Texas, Illinois, or Florida. I think when you go back in history, and I haven’t done this study, but I would be shocked if the Big 5 Champion is not an NCAA tournament team every single year. So we gotta win. If you’re in Philly, and you win four games, you’re probably an NCAA tournament team. But, of course, we have to win a lot more than that, but to be good enough to win in Philly you have to have an awfully good team.”
The win propels La Salle to the top of the Big 5 standings, as no other Big 5 games have taken place. Yet, the Explorers know that nothing will come easy this year in Philadelphia college basketball.
“It’s just a Big 5 game,” Duren said. “That’s how every Big 5 game is going to be. Especially because most of the teams have a lot of people from Philly on their team, so I think every time a Big 5 game is played it is going to a packed house. Everybody from their neighborhood is going to be at the game, all the former coaches or whatever. It’s always going to be packed.”
The road may not be easy for La Salle for the rest of the season, but they are headed in the right direction. It may have taken 10 years, but they are headed down the right path in the Big 5.