Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)
Looking at the box score from La Salle’s win over Penn State on Wednesday night, it’s tough to find a weak spot for the Explorers.
The four turnovers were the fewest La Salle had committed all season, and the first time since their season-opening win over Delaware that they gave it away fewer than 10 times. They shot 16-of-31 (51.6 percent) from three, easily their best effort of the year (6-of-15 at Hartford) en route to a season-high 82 points. Meanwhile, they held Penn State to just 57, the third time this year they’ve held an opponent under 60 points though they never scored more than 64 points in either of those other two contests.
So with all that said, was this the most complete game that La Salle (5-1) had played over their first six contests?
“Yeah, probably,” Explorer point guard Tyreek Duren said.
Duren certainly played his best game–he dropped a career-high 29 points on the Nittany Lions, including back-to-back old-fashioned 3-point plays that extended La Salle’s lead to 17 points with 8 minutes remaining, effectively putting the win in the record books.
The win improved La Salle’s record to 5-1, giving them their second win of the season over a BCS program after a thrilling OT victory over Villanova back on Nov. 25. For La Salle’s coach, how complete a game his team played never really entered his mind.
“I don’t know,” said Dr. John Giannini, now in his ninth season at the helm of the Explorers. “I don’t think about it that way. I just think we beat a team that we really respect and we played well. I really don’t care how it compares to anything else, I am just glad we won the game and played well.”
It wasn’t just Duren that played well. Junior guard Sam Mills had 14 points, connecting on half of his 3-point attempts as well as a pair of free throws, while sophomore center Steve Zack had six points and eight rebounds in 30 minutes as well as three assists as he distributed out of the post against Penn State’s zone defense. Even the La Salle student section, the Explorer Entourage, had an impressive showing as they bused hundreds of students down to the Palestra.
“Everybody was contributing in any type of way,” senior guard Ramon Galloway (14 points, four assists) agreed. “We had more emotion on the bench, I guess it was the atmosphere, but as far as all-around play, we did what we had to do.”
The Explorers have had some issues this season putting away teams after early leads. La Salle lead Hartford 40-22 at halftime before ultimately winning by 13; they were also up 20 early at Rider before allowing the Broncs to close within six in what ultimately was an 11-point victory.
“I think any college game, when you go up early and get an early lead, most of the time the team is gonna make their run,” Duren said. “Basketball is a game of runs.”
Indeed, Penn State made a small push in the second half after La Salle led 38-34 at halftime. After a Jerell Wright layup gave the home team a seven-point gap, the Nittany Lions closed it to two with 15:33 remaining. That was when the Explorers made their decisive move, a 25-5 run over a 7:59 span that ended with La Salle up 68-46 and the game well out of reach.
“Penn State…came back a little bit, it’s just like how you weather the storm,” Duren said. “I think we weathered the storm today and came back with an even bigger run.”