Coming off their greatest week in over a half a century, it looked as if La Salle (14-6, 4-3 A10) would avoid a poor showing and pull out the win. Down one with just over 30 seconds remaining, UMass coach Derek Kellogg decided to hold the ball for the final shot. Chaz Williams’ layup went and La Salle fell, 61-60.
“I kind of saw this coming,” John Giannini said about the game. “We had a few guys under the weather. Tyreek hasn’t played or practiced since the VCU game. Physically we weren’t at our best, mentally we weren’t at our best and then we had to run up against a tough team like UMass. You saw the result.”
It was a sloppy game game for La Salle, who came into the game averaging 11 turnovers per contest. The Explorers gave it away nine times in the first half and 15 times for the game, allowing for the early deficit. The Minutemen’s overall length also contributed to deflected passes as well as second chance points, 15 in total for the visitors.
“We had guards get driven on by 6-7 and 6-9 guys,” Giannini said about his opponent’s tall, athletic players. “I felt like there were a lot of individual breakdowns and we just weren’t good enough.”
In the second half, La Salle used timely shooting and stout defense to overtake UMass at 51-50. That lead would be short-lived, as the Minutemen would again use their length to finish second-chance points and to eventually take the lead back.
Ramon Galloway, the team’s leading scorer who was 1-5 in the first half with three points, finished with 16 points and six assists. Jerrell Wright added 16 points as well. Steve Zack finished with nine rebounds.
Much of the Minutemen’s success came not from their leading scorer in Williams, who finished with just six points tonight, but from Raphiael Putney, Maxie Esho and Cady Lalanne who finished with 17, 11 and nine points, respectively. Lalanne also grabbed 10 rebounds. All three of those players are 6-foot-9 or taller and have the ability to drive like guards. Their height caused trouble for the Explorers.
Still, it was Williams’ last shot that was the lasting image.
“Everyone will remember the last play, including me,” Giannini admitted. “You couldn’t guard it worse. Something that we did all game and something that we drill all year. It was something that we weren’t prepared for.”
La Salle had an opportunity late that came up short, but the play looked rushed and the Explorers had no timeouts remaining. Giannini had used his final timeout with a dead ball with just under a minute to play.
“No, it worked!” he told me, when I asked him if he’d like that timeout back. “I knew they were going to go to number-33 (Terrell Vinson) and I wanted to make we stopped 33 at that play and we did. We did everything right. We got the stop on 33, we got the ball and we took the lead.”
The problem, however, is that Vinson scored on that very play. Whether Giannini had forgotten that point or not, calling the last timeout with just under a minute to play was a decision that left La Salle with eight seconds and no way to stop the clock.
And for Giannini, who’s teams have recently prided themselves of playing tough, hard-nosed defense, this game was disappointing for both players and coach.
“There is no reason why our guards cannot guard big guys. There is no reason we cannot guard a ball screen correctly. There is no reason why we can’t tough out an extra loose ball or two. I’m disappointed on the defense on that play.”
-What it really means: The loss is not crushing for La Salle, as the Minutemen hold a high RPI (#58 heading into the night) and will remain competitive in a league that some are predicting might have as many as five NCAA tournament bids. Giannini’s players still appeared shaken on the court, however, having come off two very important victories.
“So many wonderful people were very happy with what happened last week,” Giannini repeated a few times in the press conference. “I had to tell them that UMass was a terrific team. Those two national teams were terrific, but they’re no more terrific than the rest of the teams in the Atlantic 10. They’re no [more] terrific than UMass.”
-Mr. Bowtie: La Salle’s Dean of the School of Business, Paul Brazina, is retiring form that position at the end of this year and was honored tonight with t-shirts handed out to fans and players. Brazina is known for his colorful bowties.