BY JAMES HILL
The Explorers got off to a quick start Saturday, smothering Duquesne on the defensive end and getting the rim at will on offense en route to a 97-64 win.
La Salle (20-7, 10-4 A-10) jumped all over the Dukes from the onset, claiming a 13-1 lead in the first five minutes of the game. The Explorers scored their first six baskets of the game in the paint, which later opened the perimeter for uncontested threes. Meanwhile, Duquesne (8-20, 1-13 A-10) went almost seven minutes before converting their first shot from the floor.
“We shared the ball,” La Salle Head Coach John Giannini said after the game. “We played good defense. There was nothing for a coach to be unhappy about except for a play here or there. We didn’t play the perfect game—and no one ever will—but there was a lot for us to be pleased with.”
The Explorers put up 50 points in the first half on 62 percent shooting and locked down the Dukes to build their huge lead. The Explorers eventually extended that lead to 37 points late in the game.
“We have to treat every game the same—I don’t care if they have 20 losses or 20 wins,” La Salle big man Jerrell Wright said. “We are going to go out there and play how we have the whole season.”
Meanwhile, Duquesne sputtered, as their leading scorer Derrick Colter was held to two points on 0-8 shooting in the first half. Colter finished with 16, but most were after the game was well in hand. With Colter’s offense shut down, the Dukes shot only 30 percent from the floor and 14 percent from three-point range in the first half as La Salle built its large lead.
“I thought Sam Mills’ defense on Colter really got us started,” Giannini said. “He shut him out for the first half, and he’s their leading scorer. I think Sam set the tone for our aggressiveness. I’m really hoping Sam gets strong consideration for the Atlantic 10 all-defensive team.”
The Explorers were very unselfish offensively on the day. La Salle collected 23 assists on their 34 made baskets. Ramon Galloway and DJ Peterson each had six assists, while Tyreek Duren chipped in five.
La Salle’s unselfishness led to a very successful offensive day. The Explorers nearly reached the century mark behind five double-figures scorers and 51.5 percent shooting. Galloway led the way with 23 points. Tyrone Garland added 20, while Duren and Wright each chipped in 16. Mills scored 10.
For the Explorers, the game could not end soon enough. Early in the second half, center Steve Zack fell to the floor in severe pain after his foot was stepped on by a Duquesne player. He spent the rest of the game at the end of the bench with ice on his foot. His prognosis is unknown, and he will undergo an MRI and x-ray to discover the severity of the injury, Giannini said.
Minutes later, DJ Peterson came up lame after picking up a loose ball. Peterson was able to limp off the court on his own. He returned to the bench after his ankle was taped up, but he never returned to the game. Giannini labeled the injury a “mild ankle sprain.”
“After Zack was hurt and DJ was shaken up,” Galloway said. “[Coach] left me in the game and told me ‘Don’t do anything to hurt yourself. Don’t try to force things, don’t go to the hole. Just relax and play smart.’”
Soon after, Giannini started clearing the bench, as Rohan Brown, Taylor Dunn, and Garvin Hunt found themselves in the lineup for the Explorers.
The win was the 20th of the season for La Salle, who is now moving closer to reaching its goal of qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
“It’s all of our dream to go to the NCAA Tournament,” Galloway said. “I’ve never been to the NCAA Tournament. Coach G has been there as an assistant but never as a head coach. It’s a big deal now, but we are trying not to make it too big of a deal because we have two more games left and the whole Atlantic 10 Tournament.”
With the win, La Salle moves into sole possession of third place in the Atlantic 10 standings with two games remaining. The Explorers need another win, along with a loss from either Butler or Temple, to clinch a first-round bye in the conference tournament in Brooklyn.
“I won’t be happy until the season is over,” Giannini said. “I love the way we played today and I love that we’re in position to do good things, but the season is not over.”
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