La Salle takes down No. 9 Butler, 54-53

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Sam Mills and La Salle took down No. 9 Butler at home Wednesday night. (Photo: Anson Marsh)

Sam Mills and La Salle took down No. 9 Butler at home Wednesday night. (Photo: Anson Marsh)

Andrew Albert (@andrewjalbert01)

The Explorers had not beaten a top-ten ranked opponent since 1980, and Butler was the highest ranked team to ever play on the court at Gola. It has been a long time since the students at 20th and Olney have had the opportunity to rush the court at Tom Gola Arena.

The opportunity arose Wednesday night.

La Salle used a strong shooting second half, and a few timely buckets by Sam Mills and Ramon Galloway to upset the No. 9 team in the nation, 54-53.

“It’s the greatest feeling ever,” Galloway said.

Galloway hit a layup with three seconds left to give the Explorers the victory. A half court heave by Roosevelt Jones fell no good, and the students flooded the court.

Mills hit a running jump shot in the lane with under 30 seconds remaining. He had a chance to push the lead to three, but missed the front end of a one-and-one. Andrew Smith put Butler back on top with 8.4 seconds to go, but then Galloway made a run at the basket.

“(Steve) Zack threw the ball, and I saw there was eight seconds left on the clock,” Galloway said. “I kind of hesitated for a little bit, then I looked over to coach G and he wanted me to go right away. I guess the little hesitation when I stopped and looked at coach G, the defender kind of relaxed a little bit, and I got past him and made the layup.”

“We had no time outs, and he (Galloway) had to make an aggressive play,” La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini said of the winning bucket. “He’s a good player that made an aggressive play. We had no timeouts and he had to make a play.”

Mills also provided the spark in the second half for the Explorers. The junior, who did not score in La Salle’s last game at Xavier, hit two big buckets to keep them within striking distance of the Bulldogs. He had his best game in recent memory, contributing 11 points, five rebounds and four assists on the night.

The Explorers took their first lead since 2-0 with 9:54 remaining in the game when Duren hit a layup to make the score 41-40. Big shots by Tyrone Garland and Galloway pushed La Salle’s lead to four with 6:42 remaining. Garland finished with nine points, including 2-for-3 from distance on the night.

Ramon Galloway hit the winning layup in La Salle's one point victory (Photo: Anson Marsh)

Ramon Galloway hit the winning layup in La Salle’s one point victory (Photo: Anson Marsh)

The lead hovered around three for about six minutes down the stretch, each team trading baskets and exchanging stops on either end. On two consecutive possessions, Butler forward Smith hit shots underneath that gave the Bulldogs a 51-50 lead with 46.4 seconds left in the game.

Smith had a good game for the Bulldogs. The 6-foot-11 forward contributed 16 points and eight rebounds in Butler’s first loss since November.

“We didn’t do a very good job of getting it to him early in the game,” Butler coach Brad Stevens said. “We didn’t do a good job of getting him the ball in the first 30 minutes. Certainly he is a capable guy who can make plays for us.”

La Salle turned it up both offensively and defensively in the second half. They shot 52 percent (13-for-25) in the second 20 minutes of play. After letting Butler shoot over 52 percent in the first half, the Explorers tightened up defensively, only allowing the Bulldogs to make 11 of their 24 shots in the second half.

“I think they were doing a lot of what they were doing in the first half, I think they were doing it better (in the second half),” Stevens said. “I think that anytime you play a team through the half, you are going to adjust to them a little bit. I thought they did a really good job with it. And I thought we tried to get too close to the rim on some of our shots. We just tried to bully our way in there and it wasn’t effective.”

Butler freshman Kellen Dunham was the go-to guy for most of the night for the Bulldogs Wednesday, especially with the absence of Rotnei Clarke from the lineup. The 6-foot-4 guard added 15 points on 6-of-11 shooting. He was 3-for-4 from beyond the arc, and was the only Bulldog to hit a shot from downtown.

La Salle went into the half trailing by just five points, 28-23, even though they were out-shot by close to 20 percent. Butler shot a blistering 52.2 percent (12-for-23) from the floor in the first half. They were led by the one-two guard punch of Jones and Dunham, who combined for 19 points. Jones led the way, converting on four of his seven field goal attempts.

La Salle could not find their rhythm on the offensive end of the floor in the first 20 minutes. The Explorers could not seem to crack the Butler defense with their sets, which caused them to run the shot clock down to the end before they could get a shot up. They were 10-for-31 (32.3 percent) from the field in the first half. Duren led the Explorers with seven first-half points, and was followed by six from Garland.

Shots from beyond the arc were hard to come by in the first half. Butler only attempted two 3-pointers, and made one of them. La Salle attempted a few more, but still only managed to go 2-for-9 (22.2 percent) from distance.

Note: Butler was without leading scorer Rotnei Clarke for this game. He is expected to return Saturday at home against Temple.

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