With each win, La Salle (20-7, 10-4 A10) inches closer to their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1992. On Wednesday, they will host George Washington (12-15, 6-8 A10), whom they beat 80-71 on February 2nd. This time around, the home team will be without a big piece, literally, as sophomore center Steve Zack is out with a left foot sprain.
Zack, who injured his foot in Saturday’s 33-point blowout win over Duquesne , is not one to fill up the stat sheet. The 7-footer averages just 6.4 points and 6.4 rebounds, but his contributions gives balance to a guard-heavy roster. Without him, the Explorers will rely on Jerrell Wright, another sophomore that has impressed in recent games.
“We played great against Duquesne. Any coach would be pleased,” La Salle coach John Giannini said in the weekly media call. “When you win you feel great, but you have to turn around and do it again in a few days.”
The biggest test will be whether Wright can stay on the floor, as the Philadelphia native has fouled out of a team-high three games. Without Zack to spell him, the Colonials will likely go right at the 6-foot-8 Wright with Kevin Larsen and Isaiah Armwood, standing at 6-foot-10 and 6-foot-9, respectively. Armwood is George Washington’s biggest offensive threat, averaging 11.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game.
“I think it will be an incredible game. Both teams are in desperate situation,” Giannini said about Wednesday’s game. “That usually produces intensity and effort. They are big. They are athletic. They are well-coached. Nothing is easy against them and I think is going to be a very hard game for us.”
A transfer from Villanova in his first year with the Colonials, Armwood is second in the Atlantic 10 in both rebounding and blocks. Still, with La Salle putting an even smaller team on the floor without Zack, they should be able to shoot over lengthy junior.
In fact, it is on the perimeter that you will find the biggest disparity between these two teams. The Explorers rank near the top of the league in most three-point categories, attempting 555 so far this season. George Washington has less than half of that, with only 275 attempts from beyond the arc. That in mind, La Salle wants to play in the 70s, averaging 73.2 points per game. The Colonials average only 65.4 points per contest.
With Zack in sweats, John Giannini must turn to two reserves that have seen little playing time this season. The first is Rohan Brown, a 6-foot-6 redshirt freshman that can be categorized as more of a bruiser than a swingman. Listed at 220 lbs., Brown has strength when rebounding that is not seen in many players his size. Averaging 1.9 points and 1.6 rebounds in eight minutes per game, it will be interesting to see how Brown responds to an increase in court time.
The second player that will see more playing time is Garvin Hunt, a late signee to La Salle this year. Hunt, who started his collegiate career at Penn before moving away from the game, stands 6-foot-10 and has seen action in 12 games this season. Averaging .3 points and .8 rebounds per contest, look for Hunt to primarily be in the game to guard Armwood and disallow easy baskets.
Still, La Salle’s success is with their guards. In addition to 12 points from Wright in the previous matchup with George Washington, five La Salle guards were also in double figures. The Explorers’ effectiveness is in their unselfishness. With that many players that can put up a big number, La Salle can stave off a bad shooting night for one, or even two players. Look for Wednesday to be no different.
Scouting La Salle: Without Zack, look for the Explorers to go small and rely on quickness and shooting ability. Having done this at many points this season (see: the second half at Temple), the quintet of Ramon Galloway, Tyreek Duren, Sam Mills, DJ Peterson and Tyrone Garland provides Giannini multiple options with both penetration and perimeter play. Couple that with Wright, who is one of the best finishers amongst Atlantic 10 big men, and the Explorers should be able to overcome the injury. Look for a zone for two reasons: To make George Washington beat them from the outside and to keep Wright on the floor as long as possible.
Scouting George Washington: As previously mentioned, the Colonials go as far as Armwood and Larsen will take them. Though Armwood has struggled from the floor recently, shooting just 35.1-percent from the floor in his last five. Larsen has seen a rise in his play, averaging 9.4 points per game in his last 10 contests. A knock would be his consistency, as the freshman finished with no points in two of those contests. Against Charlotte and Butler, two teams with verifiable big men, Larsen went a combined 0-7 with three rebounds and five turnovers.
As mentioned earlier, Steve Zack will miss the final two regular season games with a left foot sprain. In his weekly podcast, Giannini stated that he will be reevaluated on Monday, March 11th.
DJ Peterson, who also sustained a sprain in his ankle against Duquesne, is reportedly just sore and should play on Wednesday. This is good news for the Explorers as Peterson finished the previous game against GW with a career-high 15 points.
—Still hoping for a milestone—
Lonergan enters his fourth-straight game looking for his 400th NCAA victory. The coach is in his second year with the Colonials after scoring 251 wins at DIII Catholic University, 126 wins at Vermont and 22 wins at George Washington. Following a similar path to Giannini, Lonergan used a DIII National Championship to move to an America East school in Vermont, to then take a job in the Atlantic 10.
Giannini won his championship at Rowan, before moving to Maine and then La Salle.
Wednesday will be senior night at Tom Gola Arena, as the La Salle athletics community will honor the contributions of Ramon Galloway and Garvin Hunt. Galloway, who played just two years for the Explorers after transferring from South Carolina, has been the lifeblood of a team that had just lost their best recruit in over 15 years when Aaric Murray left the program for West Virginia. Giannini talked about his play in the weekly Atlantic 10 media conference:
He was the perfect player for us at the perfect time. We had guys like Tyreen Duren and Sam Mills, guys that are proven winners and turned out to be great recruits, but they were young and we were coming off a couple years of underachieving. Ramon helped get us over the top. He meant a lot to us in terms of talent, in giving us a teammate that we know we can count on and someone that has been good for our chemistry. He has given us tremendous energy and he is someone that is a joy to be around.