Duren's foul trouble dug La Salle too deep a hole

Duren's foul trouble dug La Salle too deep a hole

February 22, 2013, 11:00 am
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Since the beginning of the season, La Salle head coach John Gianinni has told his team that if it could be the best in Philadelphia, then it would be on its way to the NCAA tournament.

Giannini's Explorers entered the Liacouras Center guaranteed at least a share of the Big 5 title, but couldn't walk out as the outright champs following their 82-74 loss to the Temple Owls Thursday night.

It's only the Explorers' 10th ever Big 5 title, the fewest of any team, and their first since 1998. La Salle (18-7, 8-4) hasn't won the championship outright since 1990.

"The stage was set for it to be a great game, and Temple more than did their part," Gianinni said. "We weren't good. When one good team plays at a high level and another has a bad game, it's the result that you saw there today.

"It was a bad time we picked to not be at our best."

La Salle ran into two chief problems Thursday night, with one on each end of the floor.

Problem one: the Explorers opened 8-for-13 from the floor, but their offense immediately stagnated when point guard Tyreek Duren picked up his second foul less than five minutes into the first half. Giannini was forced to play Duren only in spurts for the remainder of the frame, and without him, La Salle couldn't find the net.

"He's a terrific, terrific basketball player," Temple coach Fran Dunphy said, complimenting Duren. "We were fortunate to have him be in foul trouble in the first half. There's no question about it. Certainly, Tyreek, he's the straw that stirs that drink.

"He's a good player and a good leader," Giannini added. "He's an outstanding player and outstanding leader. So, yeah, it was a big deal."

How big? Over the final 13:04 of the first half, the Explorers converted just one of 15 field goals attempts. For the final 7:50 of the half, they scored only one point, a Ramon Galloway free throw with 20 seconds remaining before the break.

The result was an 18-1 Temple run that gave the Owls a 14-point halftime lead. After falling behind as much as 22 in the second half, La Salle did make 18 of its final 32 attempts, cutting its deficit to nine points on two separate occasions. It just couldn't get any closer until two garbage buckets in the final 10 seconds reduced the final margin to eight.

"I thought the problem the whole night was the 18 more than the one," Gianinni said, referencing the run. "The 18 bothered me more than the one."

That brings us to problem two. La Salle surrendered a season-high 82 points Thursday night, unable to find a combination to stop forward Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and the rest of his Temple team on the glass. Jefferson set two new career highs, leading all scorers and rebounders with 23 points and 18 boards as Temple dominated rebounding battle, 42-27 (see story). The offensive glass was of particular concern, with Hollis-Jefferson matching La Salle's entire team total of seven by himself.

"Our biggest problem was that we just couldn't stop them," Gianinni said. "Their size and strength bothered us, and then when we went small, they beat us off the dribble.

"Whatever we tried to do, they countered it. We went big at the start of the second half, and they scored. We played our normal four-guard lineup, and they scored. We tried five perimeter guys and switching and they scored. They just had an answer for absolutely everything we did. They beat us inside, they beat us outside, they beat us of the dribble, they made shots, they played together.

"We missed some easy shots early on. I thought we were at the rim and we did get some layups early on that didn't go in and that's never a good thing."

No Explorer was more guilty of that than Galloway, who came into the game averaging 17.4 points per game, trailing only Temple's Khalif Wyatt for the Atlantic 10 scoring lead. Galloway did lead La Salle with 18 points, but he was far from efficient on 4-for-15 shooting. Eight of his 18 came from the free throw line.

Temple has struggled to keep guards out of the lane all season and that was no different Thursday night. Galloway continually got to the rim. He just couldn't finish once he got there.

His coach acknowledged his struggles, but aside from a brief fit on the bench when Galloway pounded the ball and ran the clock down right before his lone free throw that stopped a seven-minute La Salle scoring drought, Giannini didn't see the senior guard's performance as a difference maker.

"He missed some shots," he said. "He missed some at the rim early on.

"[But] 74 points is plenty to win a basketball game. ... Seventy-four points is plenty enough to win."

With the loss, La Salle drifts just a little bit closer than it already was to the NCAA tournament bubble. The Explorers have three easier games on their schedule -- Rhode Island, Duquesne and George Washington -- that should get them to 21-8 overall before a critical matchup at Saint Louis to close the season on March 9. The Billikens lead the A-10 at 9-1, own the conference's second-best overall winning percentage at 20-5 and just defeated VCU on Tuesday night, another team expected to make the selection committee's field of 68.

With the A-10 to potentially receive anywhere from four to six bids based on some fluid bracketology projections, La Salle is one of six teams -- along with Temple, Saint Louis, VCU, Butler and (the weakest candidate) Charlotte -- in consideration for an at-large bid.

Consequently, Gianinni won't be focused on Thursday night's loss for too long.

"I told them, 'You guys have seen me really upset after losses,' he said. "'[But] we just don't have time to be upset here.'

"I said, 'This is a very disappointing loss, but no one says losing to Temple is a bad loss. This program and this team to is way too good for someone to say, 'Well, losing to Temple should never happen. That that's a loss that has to count against you.'

"So this is not a bad loss. A disappointing loss, we might have played badly, but in the big scope of things, losing to Temple is something that a lot of great teams have done. So we have to move on."