If there is one word to describe the feelings of John Giannini, the rest of the La Salle basketball team, and the huge student body turnout Wednesday night, it would be “disappointed.”
“I’m phenomenally disappointed, but not surprised,” Giannini said after the game. “I saw this coming.”
La Salle simply had no life throughout most of the game, and a tough UMass team continued to make shots when it needed them to keep one step ahead of the Explorers. The Explorers, coming off a historic week of two top-25 victories, played as though they were due for a letdown.
“We had a lot of breakdowns,” said Giannini. “The one at the end of the game stands out most noticeably. You couldn’t cover a simple ball screen worse than we did on that play. We had other breakdowns. We had guards getting driven by 6’7 and 6’9 guys. We had loose balls that were in our hands that we didn’t get. We were very close, but we never quite able to do it.”
The Explorers got a ton of love in the national media leading into this game following their pair of wins last week. According to Giannini, they got a ton of love on campus as well. The Explorers were lauded for last week’s toughness, placed in NCAA Tournament projections, and received votes to be in the top 25 polls.
That type of play is tough to sustain, especially with higher expectations and a target on your back. Villanova proved that tonight as well, dropping one to an inconsistent Notre Dame team following back-to-back top-five wins.
“Physically we weren’t at our best,” said the coach. “Mentally we weren’t at our best. And then we have to run up against a really tough team like UMass, and you see the result.”
Such is life in the Atlantic 10 this year. There seem to be no nights off in a league deeper and more talented than it’s ever been.
Despite their poor play, the Explorers mounted a comeback. Once down 12 late in the first half, three Jerrell Wright buckets had La Salle feeling good going into the half. La Salle was finally able to get over the hump and take the lead on a Steve Zack bucket with about 8 minutes to play, setting up an entertaining finish. But the Explorers, who just didn’t seem to have it all night, could not make the big play when it mattered.
“They set a screen for him and he just went to the basket for a layup,” Giannini explained. “No one tried to stop him. Everyone will remember the last play, including me…. You couldn’t guard it worse.”
When Chaz Williams’ layup went in for UMass, giving them the 61-60 advantage with 8 seconds to play, that was all she wrote. La Salle could not get off a good shot over UMass’ lengthy defense that bothered the Explorers all night. The Explorers, who had already won two conference home games in the final possession this month, gave one back.
This loss will not kill their NCAA Tournament hopes—with a good finish, they can make it to the Dance. The Explorers returned home to a hero’s welcome Wednesday night—a raucous crowd, an overflowing student section, and a worthy opponent on the opposite bench. They simply could not capitalize on the momentum created last week in a game that was there to be had.
“We were not good enough, but we could have been,” Giannini said. “That’s disappointing.”
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