La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990

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La Salle gets first NCAA tourney win since 1990

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.

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

Big 5 Hall of Fame inducts 'maybe the greatest class we've ever put together'

About midway through Monday night's Big 5 Hall of Fame ceremony, the oldest inductee of this year's class paid homage to the youngest.

That's how much hoops legend George Raveling, a 1960 Villanova graduate, was blown away by Penn alum Ibrahim Jaaber's impassioned speech that ended with a powerful poem about how basketball saved him.

"It kept running through my mind that you represent everything good about sports," Raveling said to Jaaber. "And I hope you'll continue to use your wisdom, your influence, to make the game better, to make the world better. As a 79-year-old-man, soon to be 80 in June, I want to tell you that if I come back in the next life, I want to be like you."

That touching moment, in many ways, was a perfect encapsulation of the ties that bind the Big 5, from one generation to the next. But aside from Raveling and longtime Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Bill Lyon -- who, despite battling Alzheimer's, courageously gave an acceptance speech to a standing ovation at the Palestra -- this year's class was filled with contemporary guards who clashed in some great Big 5 games not too long ago.

Among them were two current NBA players in Saint Joseph's icon Jameer Nelson (class of 2004) and former 'Nova star Randy Foye (2006), as well as Temple's Lynn Greer (2002) and Jaaber (2007). La Salle women's player Carlene Hightower (2008) was the other member of the star-studded class defined by tough, gritty Philadelphia guards.

"The inductees here for the Hall of Fame have got to be maybe the greatest class we've ever put together," said Villanova head coach Jay Wright, who closed the night by accepting the Big 5 Coach of the Year award right after Josh Hart took home Player of the Year honors. "I grew up in Philadelphia and we always talk about what a great place the Palestra is -- and it is. But when you listen to Lynn, Randy, Coach Rav, Ibby, Jameer, you know why this is a great place. It's because of all the great man that have played here -- outstanding, humble, articulate, intelligent men that understand they're part of something that's bigger than themselves. That's what makes the Big 5. That's what makes the Palestra."

Nelson, the National Player of the Year during St. Joe’s historic 2003-04 season, certainly showed what kind of person he is, inviting all of his old Hawks teammates who were in attendance to stand behind him as he accepted his Hall of Fame award. And he even choked up at one point as he described what those teammates, coach Phil Martelli and Saint Joseph's University have meant to him as he's forged a long and fruitful NBA career.

"Without them, none of this would be possible," said Nelson, the Hawks' all-time leader in points (2,094) and assists (713). "These guys mean the world to me."

Nelson, now with the Denver Nuggets, just wrapped up his 13th season in the NBA, calling it an "unbelievable ride" for a 5-foot-11 kid from Chester. That's two more years spent in the league than Foye, who Nelson thanked for forcing him to be better back in their college days. He also called Greer one of his "great friends" and said that Jaaber's speech "touched me in so many different ways, I wish more young kids could hear it."

"I'm very grateful to be inducted with you guys," Nelson said, although he did point out that when he was at St. Joe's, the Hawks had Villanova down 43-9 at halftime one year. 

"But those next couple years, we paid y'all back," said Foye, now with the Brooklyn Nets, during his own speech.

Those rivalries were especially meaningful to Foye, who also played against Jaaber in both high school and college.

"Being from North Jersey, you never hear about the Big 5," said Foye, a first-team All-American and Big 5 Player of the Year in 2006. "For me coming here and witnessing it up close and personal, it's just something truly amazing."

Foye added that everywhere he goes, he tries to embody what a Philly guard is -- "small but play big," as he put it -- while reminding people that he's proud to be a Villanova alum. The same can be said of Raveling, a longtime college coach and executive who was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2015.

"I'm so proud to say I'm a Big 5 product -- and a proud graduate of Villanova University," Raveling said. "I look back many times and realize the wisest decision I ever made in my lifetime was to enroll at Villanova University."

Just as he opened his speech, Raveling also closed it by saying he was "proud" to enter the Big 5 Hall of Fame the same year as Jaaber, whose remarks touched on spirituality, family and a unique journey from Morocco to New Jersey to Penn.

Jaaber also made sure to thank the person who perhaps embodies the Big 5 more than anyone else: former La Salle player, former Penn coach and current Temple coach Fran Dunphy.

"I don't think I could have had a better coach for me in my situation than my Coach Dunphy," said Jaaber, the 2006-07 Big 5 Player of the Year and the all-time Ivy League leader in steals (303). "I'm almost embarrassed to be inducted into the Hall of Fame before Coach Dunphy."

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood basketball star Collin Gillespie signs with Villanova

Archbishop Wood's Collin Gillespie, the Philadelphia Catholic League's MVP, has signed a national letter of intent to attend Villanova and play for Jay Wright.

Gillespie, during his senior year, averaged 24.1 points per game. The 6-foot-2 guard lead Archbishop Wood to their first Catholic League title in school history and followed that up with a PIAA State Championship game victory -- also a first for the school. Along with the league MVP, Gillespie was named Player of the Year by the Philadelphia Daily News.

"We are excited to have Collin and his family join the Nova Nation," Villanova coach Jay Wright said in a statement. "Collin comes from a great program at Archbishop Wood and has been well prepared by John Mosco. His guard skills, basketball IQ and winning instincts will be a welcome addition to our program."

Gillespie will join previously announced signees Dhamir Cosby-Roundtree (Neumann-Goretti High School in Philadelphia) and Jermaine Samuels (Rivers School, Weston, Mass.) in Villanova's class of 2021.