Tyreek Duren scored 14 of La Salle's final 20 points in the team's 78-74 win over Siena on Saturday. (USA Today Images)
There was one word La Salle head coach John Giannini kept repeating after Saturday afternoon’s 78-74 comeback victory over Siena (see Instant Replay).
“We like to use the word 'will,'” Giannini said after the game. “You have to will yourself to win. I whispered in [Tyreek Duren's] ear down the stretch with about five, six minutes left and I said, ‘You guys have to will us to this win,’ and he did. He was amazing. He was absolutely amazing.”
No words were minced by the coach, nor should they have been. With a 1-2 start to the season staring the Explorers in the face, his team put together a courageous run, and it all started with the senior point guard.
With 7:59 to play, Siena’s Rob Poole made a layup to put the Saints ahead, 64-56. On the ensuing possession, Duren made a layup that sparked the Explorers’ ensuing 22-10 run they used to close the game out on their own terms, and the senior was the driving force the whole way.
In the next two minutes and 41 seconds, Duren poured in eight more points, including a pair of back-to-back threes to bring the Explorers within two. Fourteen seconds later he made a layup on a breakaway and forced Siena head coach Jimmy Pastos to use a timeout in an attempt to calm his team.
In the end, Duren scored 14 of La Salle’s final 20 points and finished the game with a team-high 20.
“That group that was on the court the last five, six minutes did a phenomenal job,” Giannini said. “I think Tyreek willed us to the win.”
Not too shabby for a player who didn’t make a single field goal in the first half.
In 13 first-half minutes, Duren went 0 for 3 from the field, including two missed three-pointers. He scored just one point.
The Saints were firing on all cylinders while Duren and the Explorers were quite the opposite. Then the senior point guard exploded to make seven of his team’s 11 second-half field goals.
Asked whether his spectacular play during the run was a result of any halftime adjustments, Duren said: “Not really. I think my shots just started falling. ... I told myself to just keep shooting, they’ll fall eventually, and during the course of that run they just started falling.
“Maybe I was a little aggressive, but I think the main thing was my shots just started going in.”
It certainly felt good to finally start helping his team in the second half.
“It’s always a good feeling when your shots are going in, especially when you had a first half like I did where I couldn’t throw a rock in the ocean,” Duren said with a laugh.
For one half Saturday, Duren probably couldn't have been worse. In the second half, he probably couldn't have been better, going 7 for 10 from the field for 19 of his 20 points.
Tom Gola Arena, never lacking for noise, rallied around its leader as the game wound down and the points piled up.
Among those in the audience of Duren’s performance was his head coach. The point guard colored Giannini impressed.
“What you saw today was a team that came together in the last six, seven minutes,” Giannini said. “But it revolved around Tyreek’s leadership, both in his play and his mentality.”
Giannini said he was less than impressed with his team’s effort Saturday afternoon and that the Explorers have a number of things to work on before Tuesday’s matchup with Penn State. Yet in the end, a win is a win.
“The bottom line is surviving,” Giannini said. “We survived, and you can’t fault our effort that last five, six minutes. We really did everything we possibly could to win that game in the last five, six minutes, and I think they all deserve credit for it.”
The Explorers return to action Tuesday night at 7 p.m. when they travel to Penn State to take on the Nittany Lions.