Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)
A balanced La Salle team effort came up short Sunday afternoon, as the Explorers fell to Central Connecticut State 81-74 at Tom Gola Arena
Four Explorer starters scored in double digits for La Salle, but it was not enough to defeat the Blue Devils. The Explorers tied the game at 74 with 1:57 remaining before CCSU closed out the game on a 7-0 run to seal the victory.
“We played hard,” Dr. John Giannini said. “They just played a little harder, made more shots, and were a little tougher and wanted it a little more. But we did not lay down. They earned that win. Our attitudes were good, we gave good effort, we didn’t have a ton of turnovers. They just deserve a lot of credit.”
Jerrell Wright led the Explorers with 18 points, six rebounds and four assists on the day. He shot 58.3 percent from the field (7-for-12), as well as converted on four of his seven free-throw attempts. Of his 18 points, only 6 of them were in the second half, much of which were due to constant double teams by the Blue Devils on the blocks.
“They would bring somebody from the baseline and double team me,” Wright said. “When I felt them double team me, I would pass to the open man, so that was basically all I could do. Try to win the game by passing the ball.”
The open man that Wright referred to was behind the three point line in this particular game. La Salle took 28 shots from beyond the arc, converting just nine of those attempts They shot 44 percent overall on the day (28-for-64).
Sam Mills was 4-of-8 from three point land, as he added 16 points, five rebounds and two assists. He was on the court for over 39 minutes, and took on the task of face guarding Central Connecticut’s best offensive weapon, Kyle Vinales, who came in averaging 23.3 points per game.
The Explorers could not find a way to stop Vinales during the first half, as he had 16 points at halftime. However the tandem of Ramon Galloway and Mills played solid defense on him in the second half, limiting him to seven points after the break. His final stat line was 23 points, 3 assists and 3 rebounds.
“He hit shots,” Galloway said. “He hit some good shots. Some were contested and some weren’t, but he hit a lot of good shots. One thing you can never take away from a player is his skill. He has an elite skill set.”
It seemed that any time the Explorers would make a push, the Blue Devils came up with shots to keep their lead. Timely free throw shooting propelled CCSU to the victory, shooting 14-for-16 from the charity stripe, as well as key turnovers late in the game from La Salle. They finished the day with 11 turnovers.
Due to matchup problems, the Explorers went with four guards and one forward, rotating between Zack and Wright, for much of the second half. Steve Zack was not as effective as his first game against Delaware, playing only 17 minutes, tallying four points and five rebounds.
“Basketball is quickness,” Giannini added. “That is why we won last year. Quickness is huge in basketball, and they are very quick. They get up and down the floor, they can penetrate, and then they have the ability to shoot threes. If we played our bigger lineup we would have lost by 20. It wouldn’t have even been close. We just couldn’t have guarded them playing big.”
A barrage of three-point shooting by CCSU early left the Explorers in an early 20-9 hole. Wright responded with eight points in a row to limit the damage and pull La Salle back into striking distance.
The Explorers defense was not up to their normal standard, as they gave up 48 points in the first half alone, something they did not do in all of last season. Central Connecticut State’s guards, specifically Vinales, got into the paint at will, and finished effectively. The Blue Devils shot 56 percent from the field (19-for-34) in the first half, including 45.5 percent from three-point range (5-for-11).
“They had a lot of lay-ups,” Galloway said. “We were not talking enough in transition. They had a lot of transition threes. They had a lot of transition lay-ups. I feel like we lacked a little bit on defense. We played D, but it wasn’t the D that La Salle plays. It was not the defense we practice everyday. 94 feet, energized, hyped, everybody cheering each other on every play and every minute. It wasn’t La Salle defense.
Timely three point shooting kept the Explorers in the game in the first half, as they connected on seven of their 15 attempts (46.7 percent). Galloway took seven shots from beyond the arc, sinking three of them.
The 81 points were the most given up by La Salle in a loss since March 11th, 2011 when the Explorers took on Temple in the Atlantic 10 tournament. La Salle fell to the Owls 96-76 in the last game of the 2010-2011 season.
“We gotta get back to where we were defensively,” Giannini said. “They made some tough plays, but a player here or there needs to get back to where they were defensively. It’s more of an individual problem than a team-wide thing.”
The Explorers don’t have much time to get back to their defensive ways, as they are back on the court Tuesday. They will travel to take on Hartford at 7 p.m. on November 20.