Steve Zack leads Explorers past Delaware

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Steve Zack (left) and Jerrell Wright (right) go up for a rebound against Delaware (Photo: Josh Verlin)

Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)

Steve Zack had a breakout performance in the post to lead La Salle to a 73-66 victory over the Delaware Blue Hens at Tom Gola Arena on Saturday afternoon.

Zack, who had a career-high 19 points and eight rebounds was a presence in the post, and capitalized on 8-of-14 of his field goal attempts. La Salle (1-0) got out to a 21-6 advantage early in the first half before Delaware (0-1) fought back to make the game tight in the second half.

Jarvis Threatt led the Delaware charge on the offensive end, adding 17 points and six rebounds in 31 minutes. He went 7-for 15 from the field.

The Explorers and the Blue Hens traded baskets and the lead changed by the possession from the 13-minute mark to the four-minute mark in the second half. Zack then had an old-fashioned 3-point play and a put-back layup to put the Explorers up 65-60 with 2:50 to play.

Fittingly, it was Zack who pulled down the rebound to seal the game for the Explorers on a missed Devon Saddler free-throw with La Salle up six points and 16 seconds to play.

“Steve learned, and he worked, and he has been tough and motivated,” head coach Dr. John Giannini said.  Most importantly, he is in great shape. He was able to play 38 minutes and he could have went longer. There are not many guys out there Steve’s size in the kind of shape he is in right now. It has made him faster  quicker, stronger, and he has really improved. I expected him to improve, but he has made a big jump.”

“Everybody knows our guards are good from last year,” Tyreek Duren said. “The big question coming into this year was what our bigs were going to do. And I think Zack and Jerrell came out and showed people that it was their year, and they’re ready to play.”

(See also: staff photographer Anson Marsh’s photo gallery here)

Zack also played a big part on the defensive end of the floor as he took the responsibility of guarding Jamelle Hagins, who led the Colonial Athletic Association (CAA) in rebounding last season. While Hagins did have 12 points and 14 rebounds, Zack limited his presence on the offensive end.

“Coach G challenged me early in the week and said I was going to guard this guy, he showed me the statistics from last year, and he had top five rebounding numbers in the entire country, so he really challenged me, and I feel like I stepped up,” said Zack, a New Cumberland, Pa. native.

Delaware outshot La Salle in the game, hitting 45.2 percent (28-for-62) to the Explorers’ 36.5 percent (23-for-63) from the field. The Blue Hens shot a dismal 1-for-8 from 3-point range for the game, with Kyle Anderson hitting the only trifecta.

The Explorers shot well from the free throw line in this game, sinking 14 of their 15 second half attempts to hold the lead down the stretch. They shot 92 percent (23-for-25) for the game, while Delaware shot 75 percent (9-for-12). In addition to the fundamentals of free throw shooting, the Explorers also only turned the ball over seven times on the day.

While La Salle shot well from the line and took care of the ball, they did not shoot well from 3-point range, only shooting 29 percent (4-for-14) from beyond the arc. A very similar Explorers team (missing only graduated senior Earl Pettis) was one of the best 3-point teams in the country last season at over 40 percent.

“I think we didn’t play great, but we beat a great team,” Giannini said. “We won because we didn’t turn it over, we made some free throws, and our big guys did some good things. And when you know what our guards can do, you know that we are going to play better than that in those positions. So I am thrilled on every level.”

Sophomore forward Jerrell Wright had an average night statistically, contributing 14 points and 10 rebounds,  but Hagins and Josh Brinkley neutralized his post moves for the most part. He shot just 5-for-14 from the field.

Ramon Galloway, who only had five points in 19 limited minutes, sank two free throws with under a minute remaining to give the Explorers a 67-62 lead that they would not relinquish.

Galloway picked up his fourth personal foul with just over 13 minutes remaining in the game, landing him on the bench until the 4:36 mark in the game. The senior was banged up in this game, as he injured his hip in practice on monday.

“He is a tough guy, and he played hurt and in foul trouble,” Giannini added. “He is a big time player, and he still played good defense, and had four assists and only one turnover. He is going to have a great year.”

La Salle was outrebounded 22-16 in the first half in large part due to Hagins, who grabbed nine rebounds in the first half; both Zack and Wright had a total of four rebounds in the same time span. The Explorers made up the difference in the second half, as the Blue Hens edged the Explorers in the rebounding battle 40-39.

Rohan Brown saw extended minutes due to the foul troubles of Galloway, as he played 15 minutes and added two points and three rebounds.

Devin Saddler, who did not score in the first half for Delaware, ended the game with 14 points on 6-of-16 shooting. Saddler played limited minutes in the first half due to foul trouble, which included a technical foul after a controversial foul call.

La Salle has more than a week before their next game, which will be at home on November 18 against Central Connecticut State. Delaware, on the other hand, will play Penn on Monday night. The game will take place in Charlottesville, Va. as a part of the preseason NIT tournament.

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