La Salle fell short – and so did John Giannini.
With a chance to win their first Big 5 outright title since 1990, and likely secure their first NCAA berth since 1992, the Explorers fell flat in an 82-74 loss at Temple Thursday night that wasn’t as close as the final score.
As Giannini, La Salle’s coach, accurately stated afterward, there’s no shame in losing to a good program on the road. The fact that Explorers point guard extraordinaire Tyreek Duren was in foul trouble from early on gave good reason for La Salle to play one of its worst games this season – particularly with so much at stake.
Surprisingly, Giannini didn’t allow his players to address the media, the conduit to Explorers fans, afterward. It was head-scratching. Addressing the media and the fans is part of the deal with big-time college athletics. It’s a chance for free exposure and making connections to your fans, alumni and, possibly, future students.
And these La Salle players are great at making connections, particularly guys like Duren and Ramon Galloway.
Those two, especially, are very quotable and very friendly.
The idea behind this column was to ask the players how to put a loss like this behind them, with the chance for the NCAA tournament still in La Salle’s grasps. I wasn’t going to bury them; there was no reason to really. It was one bad game in an otherwise outstanding season.
But that couldn’t materialize. We’re left only with Giannini’s analysis of the loss.
“The stage was set for it to be a great game,” Giannini said. “Temple more than did their part. They were terrific. Anyone who saw the way they played has to be impressed. They weren’t good. When one good team plays at a high level and another team has a bad game, it’s the result you saw there today.”
The Explorers were in trouble from the moment Duren picked up his second foul with 15:32 left in the first half. Temple was leading 12-11 at the time. Duren played sporadically the rest of the half, finishing with 10 minutes, and watching mostly as Temple ended the first half on a game-changing 18-1 run.
Scootie Randall’s 3-pointer extended Temple’s lead to 22 points, 53-31, with 15:47 left. The Explorers did the best they could, but that deficit was too great to overcome.
“He’s an outstanding leader and an outstanding player,” Giannini said of Duren. “So, yeah, it’s a big deal.”
Said Temple’s Khalif Wyatt, “Tyreek is the catalyst for that. He makes plays for everybody. When he went out, somebody else had to run their offense. So we took advantage, tried to pressure them, speed them up and take advantage of that.”
Temple certainly did that.
Wyatt was his usual self, getting 17 points. But it was the play of his cast, particularly Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Scootie Randall, which propelled the Owls to the win – and kept alive their NCAA at-large chances.
Hollis-Jefferson set career highs with 23 points and 18 rebounds, while Randall had a double-double as well with 15 points and 10 rebounds.
“Our biggest problem was we couldn’t stop them,” Giannini said. “Whatever we tried to do, they countered it. Their size and strength bothered us. They just had an answer for everything we did.”
Giannini tried to keep the defeat in perspective, knowing La Salle’s goals are still very attainable with plenty of season left.
“I said, ‘We don’t have time to be upset here,’” Giannini said of his postgame address to his team. “This is a very disappointing loss but nobody says losing at Temple is a bad loss. This program and this team are way too good to say this is a bad loss.
“We might have played badly but in the big scope of things losing at Temple something a lot of great teams have done. We have to move on and that’s what we told them.”
As for his players, one can only guess what they thought.
And that’s a shame.