La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990

La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990

March 21, 2013, 12:30 am
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Tyrone Garland scored 22 points in La Salle's 80-71 win over Boise State in the first round of the NCAA tournament. (AP)

BOX SCORE

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.