Before Fridays practice, La Salle head coach John Giannini gathered his players on the floor of Tom Gola Arena and instructed them to look up at two banners behind the basket.
One of the banners listed the Explorers Big 5 championships. Their most recent one came in 1990.
The other banner listed the Explorers NCAA tournament appearances. Their second-most recent one came in 1990.
Gianninis lesson: End the Big 5 championship drought and the programs NCAA tournament drought will very likely end too.
And after its 74-57 rout of Penn on Saturday at Tom Gola Arena (see Instant Replay), La Salle is halfway to achieving at least one of those goals.
Why cant we be that next banner up there? La Salle junior guard Tyreek Duren said. We can tell people we were the last team that made the tournament and won the Big 5. And then people will remember us.
Duren and Ramon Galloway, the leading scorer in the Atlantic 10, led the Explorers with 17 points apiece, while transfer Tyrone Garland chipped in with 15 in the first Big 5 game of his career.
Talented big man Jerrell Wright added 10 points and 11 rebounds for the Explorers, who finished their non-conference slate with a 10-3 record heading into the start of Atlantic 10 play Wednesday.
La Salle doesnt finish its Big 5 schedule until mid-February when it plays A-10 games against city foes St. Joes and Temple in the span of five days.
But with a perfect 2-0 Big 5 record, winning the city round-robin for the first time in 23 years is certainly something thats on everyones mind at La Salle.
I think being able to win the Big 5 in the best college basketball city in America will always be a big deal, Giannini said. I like it as a measuring stick because the champion of the Big 5 is going to go to the NCAA tournament almost all of the time.
But someone asked me yesterday how I feel at the midway point, the La Salle coach added. How would you feel if the surgeon did a good job halfway through but slipped up a bit in the second half? It doesnt mean anything. You evaluate your season when its over, and we have a long way to go.
While its true the Explorers wont know for a couple of months if theyre able to meet their long-term goals, they can certainly take a lot of positives out of Saturdays non-conference finale.
La Salle was able to bounce back from an upsetting 76-59 setback at Miami a rare double-digit loss and execute its defensive gameplan against a Penn squad that Giannini believes is on the verge of winning games against good teams. Namely, the Explorers used an effective fullcourt press to force the Quakers into 21 turnovers, including 15 in the first half.
That was kind of all Coach G talked about the whole week, Duren said. Theyve got a young team and theyve never seen our pressure before. They didnt have Zack Rosen this year and our pressure should really bother them. They can practice it but they dont know what it is until they get on the court.
La Salle isnt the first team to rattle the Quakers (2-11 overall, 0-2 Big 5), who were averaging an Ivy League-worst 17 turnovers coming into Saturdays game.
For Penn head coach Jerome Allen, the most frustrating part of those giveaways are all of the unforced errors, which he deemed unacceptable.
I guess its part of the process when you have a fairly young team, Allen said. But what I try to do is not allow their inexperience to be a cheap crutch.
Perhaps the best part about having a team filled with underclassmen is watching the development of some of those young players. And on Saturday, Penn fans got a good glimpse into freshman guard Tony Hicks massive potential.
Hicks finished with a team-high 14 points, his most memorable basket probably coming at the end of the first half when he held the ball at the top of the key, took on Galloway and buried a very difficult jumper before starting down La Salles star senior.
Obviously Tony has a lot of work ahead of him, but what I will say is that, primarily in the first half, he was aggressive in his approach, whether he was taking it to the hoop, shooting pull-ups or trying to make plays, Allen said. Whether the ball goes in the basket or not is one thing but whatever he does on the court he needs to be aggressive and assertive with it. And I thought in the first half he did a pretty decent job with that.
Aside from Hicks, only junior captain Miles Cartwright (11 points) reached double figures in scoring for the Quakers, who continue to reel from the loss of junior forward Fran Dougherty.
Dougherty has missed the last three games with mono and Allen said it would be at least a couple of more weeks until hes able to return.
It is documented that he's averaging 15 points and eight rebounds for us but we like to think there are other guys capable of helping us, Allen said. Mabye not to the tune of 15 and eight, but we could spread that around amongst a couple of guys and I think we should be fine.
Even without Dougherty, Penn managed to outrebound La Salle, 43-35 an impressive accomplishment when you consider the Quakers rank last in the Ivy League in rebounding margin.
Interestingly enough, however, La Salle got a rebounding boost from Garvin Hunt, who grabbed three offensive boards in five minutes of action off the bench. Hunt also scored the basket that put the Explorers up for good midway through the first half.
Why is this so interesting? Well, its because Hunt actually graduated from Penn last May before enrolling at La Salle for graduate school and using his final year of basketball eligibility with the Explorers.
Hunt only played as a freshman at Penn in 2008-09 before quitting the team. Still, he was eager to play against them.
This was the first game I asked Coach G about when I decided to come here, Hunt said. I asked him when this game was and so Ive been trying to get ready for this game ever since the summer really. ...
It was good to be a part of the Big 5 again and good to play my rival school.
Dave Zeitlin covers college sports for CSNPhilly.com. E-mail him at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter at @DaveZeitlin.