La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990


La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990


DAYTON, Ohio -- Just behind the media seating, in one of the first few rows, the third-leading scorer in NCAA history watched the action with great interest. Lionel Simmons was on the court the last time La Salle won an NCAA tournament game -- way back in 1990. As totems go, the Explorers could have done worse.

“L-Train was here,” La Salle head coach John Giannini beamed after the game. “How awesome is that?”

Simmons mixed in with a sold-out crowd at UD Arena to watch No. 13 La Salle take on No. 13 Boise State in the first-round/play-in game on Wednesday evening. It had been 21 years since the Explorers played on a floor with the NCAA logo stamped on it. It won’t be nearly as long until they do so again.

La Salle beat Boise State, 80-71 (see Instant Replay). For their effort, the Explorers (22-9) will head to Kansas City, Missouri, to take on No. 4 Kansas State at 3:10 p.m. on Friday.

“It’s a great thing -- for any school it’s a great thing,” Giannini said. “It’s really satisfying, but I don’t want it to be satisfying because satisfied competitors aren’t as good as hungry ones."

The desire Giannini was talking about was evident on Wednesday. La Salle, which limped into the tournament having lost two straight, had a lot to prove. The Explorers were one of the last teams to make the field, and they had a poor shooting effort against Butler in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

That changed against Boise State. Before the game, Giannini and Broncos head coach Leon Rice both insisted that the outcome would be determined by guard play and which team shot the ball better (see story). They were both right, though Giannini was obviously far more thrilled than Rice was about the joint prediction coming true.

La Salle picked an excellent time to have its best shooting performance of the year. That isn’t hyperbole. The Explorers shot a season-high 63.3 percent from the field. They also made an impressive 52 percent of their attempts from three-point range.

“It’s a relief,” senior guard Ramon Galloway said. “We were kind of in a slump. We’re at our best when we can knock down shots and get up and down the floor. For us to have this type of game and win, it relieves a lot of pressure off our chest because now we have even more confidence going into the next game. We know that every day, it’s win or go home. We want to be there. We want to make a statement.”

As Giannini noted, “the difference in the game [was] we had four or five guards playing at a high level.” Junior guard Tyrone Garland came off the bench to lead La Salle with 22 points. Galloway added 21 points, and junior guard Sam Mills had 15 points.

More than anyone, it was Garland who pushed the pace for La Salle and helped the Explorers get past Boise State. Earlier in the week, when Rice was asked about the biggest difference between the two very-similar teams, he said that the Explorers were quicker than his squad. He was right about that, too. When Garland had the Broncos step out on him (or Galloway or, really, any of the La Salle guards), he and his teammates frequently put the ball on the floor and blew past them on the way to easy buckets in the lane. (The Explorers had 36 points in the paint and 17 points off fast breaks.)

“It means a lot,” Galloway said about picking up the school’s first NCAA tournament victory in more than two decades. “It’s going to bring our fans and alumni back. When you’re winning, alumni and fans feel good about their school. I saw we had our own little section here and everything. It made us play so much harder because we knew we had support. I’m not going to lie, I probably didn’t think there would be that many people traveling. But, you know, they were there, and they proved me wrong. We’ve got to fight for them. We’ve got to fight for the name on our chest.”

As the game funneled toward its conclusion, the Explorers fans that made the trip to Dayton -- the ones Galloway and Giannini and the rest later waved to as they walked off the court -- began singing happy birthday to the university. Wednesday was the school’s 150th anniversary. It was also the 59th anniversary of La Salle’s 1954 NCAA Championship. The Explorers beat Bradley that year. And the location? Same place they’re going next -- Kansas City.

Penn State vs. No. 2 Ohio State: Nittany Lions host Buckeyes in primetime


Penn State vs. No. 2 Ohio State: Nittany Lions host Buckeyes in primetime

Penn State (4-2, 2-1) vs. No. 2 Ohio State (6-0, 3-0)
Beaver Stadium, State College, Pennsylvania
Saturday, 8 p.m., ABC

Scouting Penn State
The Nittany Lions were off last week, but the week before beat Maryland 38-14, in what was probably their strongest overall effort since Langhorne native James Franklin became the head coach in 2014.

Saquon Barkley ran for 202 yards in that game, which was not only a career high for the sophomore running back but the most by a Penn State player since Larry Johnson ran for 279 against Michigan State in 2002. Barkley has rushed for 582 yards (5.0 yards per carry), fourth-most in the Big Ten, and had 194 in a 38-10 loss to the Buckeyes last year in Columbus. He is also second in the conference with nine touchdowns.

Lions linebackers Jason Cabinda and Brandon Bell, out since early in the season with undisclosed injuries, are expected to return this week to the beleaguered defense, which is led by safety Marcus Allen with 57 tackles. 

Scouting Ohio State
The Buckeyes (6-0) beat Wisconsin, 30-23, in overtime last week on the road, as J.T. Barrett threw a seven-yard touchdown pass to Noah Brown in the extra period and the OSU defense staved off the Badgers’ bid for a tie.

Barrett leads the Big Ten in passing efficiency, having completed 63.2 percent of his passes for 1,207 yards and 16 touchdowns, with four interceptions. He also presides over a unit that is fourth in the FBS in scoring (49.3 ppg) and rushing (300.5 ypg), and 12th in total offense (516.5). Tailback Mike Weber and H-back Curtis Samuel are second and 10th in the conference in rushing with 612 (6.5 ypc) and 456 yards (7.4), respectively, and Barrett has added 434.

The OSU defense, which like the offense has eight new starters this season, is third in the FBS in points allowed (12.8), sixth in yardage yielded (280.3) and 20th against the rush (120.8). That unit is also fourth in pass-efficiency defense, and its 11 interceptions are fifth-most in the country; safety Malik Hooker has four of those.

The Buckeyes lead the all-time series, 18-13, and have won the last four meetings.

Storyline to watch
Can Paris Palmer hold up at left tackle? He made 11 uneven starts last season, but was chained to the bench the first five weeks this fall. Then right tackle Andrew Nelson was lost for the season to a knee injury sustained in the second quarter of the Maryland game, Brendan Mahon moved from the left side to Nelson’s spot and Palmer was inserted. Tough opponent to face in your first start of the year.

What’s at stake
The Lions are seeking a signature victory. Besides their four consecutive losses to the Buckeyes, they have dropped three straight to both Michigan and Michigan State. The average score of those 10 losses is 38-13.

The Lions are improving, but Ohio State remains a cut above.

Ohio State 35, Penn State 17

No. 16 Villanova vs. No. 23 Albany: With or without Bednarczyk, can Wildcats rebound?


No. 16 Villanova vs. No. 23 Albany: With or without Bednarczyk, can Wildcats rebound?

No. 16 Villanova (5-2, 3-1) vs. No. 23 Albany (4-2, 1-2)
Villanova Stadium, Villanova, Pa.
Saturday, 3:30 p.m.

Fresh off a rare loss, Villanova looks to get back on track during its homecoming game against another nationally ranked foe. Here’s a look at the matchup:

Scouting Villanova
The Wildcats saw their five-game winning streak snapped in resounding fashion as they were shut out for the first time since 2004 in a 23-0 loss to Richmond. Sophomore quarterback Zach Bednarczyk left the game in the second quarter with an injury, a big reason why the Wildcats finished with just 222 yards of total offense. But despite the final score, Villanova’s defense played well again with Austin Calitro and Rob Rolle each hitting double digits in tackles. The unit is ranked fifth in the FCS in scoring defense (16.3 points per game) and sixth in total defense (237.9 yards per game) and has scored four defensive touchdowns.

Scouting Albany
After winning their first four games, the Great Danes lost their next two, a 36-30 triple-overtime heartbreaker to Richmond followed by a 20-16 setback to Maine. Sophomore quarterback Neven Sussman led Albany with 187 passing yards and 75 rushing yards. But for the season, their offensive strength has been with sophomore running back Elijah Ibitokun-Hanks, who’s second in the CAA in rushing, averaging 105 yards per game. Albany’s defense is only behind Villanova in points allowed per game (19.3) in the CAA, but interestingly enough is last in total defense (420.2 yards per game). The Great Danes lead the league in turnover margin (plus-15), led by linebacker Michael Nicastro and safety Mason Gray with three interceptions apiece.

Series history
Villanova has only played Albany twice, beating the Great Danes, 48-31, in 2014 and steamrolling it, 37-0, last season. 

Storyline to watch
The big question going in is whether Bednarczyk will play with Villanova saying it will be a game-time decision after the QB suffered a concussion last week. If he can’t go, Adeyemi DaSilva will get the start in his place after replacing him in the second quarter vs. Richmond. DaSilva is a promising player but Bednarczyk was coming into his own this season and his absence would naturally be a difficult one. Of course, the Wildcats have been through this before with Bednarczyk taking over as the starter last season when star John Robertson went down with an injury of his own.

What’s at stake?
Villanova still has a chance to win the CAA but probably can’t afford a second loss in the league. And of course, there’s nothing better than winning in front of a homecoming crowd.

A lot depends on whether Bednarczyk can play … but even if he doesn’t, the Wildcats’ dominant defense may be enough to get the job done. 

Villanova 20, Albany 17