La Salle-Temple: Explorers don't want to share title

La Salle-Temple: Explorers don't want to share title
February 20, 2013, 6:45 pm
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As Tyreek Duren stood by the floor at Tom Gola Arena giving an interview Tuesday afternoon, La Salle teammate Ramon Galloway casually walked by him, flicked him on the ear and then called out to him right before getting on an elevator.

“Tyreek, we love you!”

Heading into one of the biggest games of his life, Galloway certainly seems loose.

On Thursday, Galloway, Duren and the rest of the red-hot Explorers head down North Broad Street to take on Temple at the Liacouras Center (7 p.m., CBS Sports Network) with the Big 5 title at stake.

By virtue of its 76-64 victory over Saint Joseph’s at the Palestra on Saturday -– as well as its earlier wins over Villanova and Penn –- La Salle has already clinched at least a share of the Big 5 championship.

But a win over Temple would give the Explorers their first outright title since Lionel Simmons’ senior year in 1989-90, while a loss would mean they’d have to share the crown with the Owls.

What would it mean for the Explorers to claim an outright city championship and go perfect in all of its games against Philadelphia opponents this season?

“It would mean a lot, especially for the players that live in Philly,” Galloway said. “Knowing the teams that play in the Big 5, we know they're all quality teams. It’s not teams you can just sweep easily.”

Galloway is one of a handful of Philly natives on the squad, along with Duren, Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright. But Galloway and Duren said they didn’t go to many Big 5 games as a kid and didn’t really learn about what the storied city series meant until they were schooled on the subject by La Salle head coach John Giannini.

“The only team I can recall is St. Joe’s when Jameer [Nelson] was there and then Villanova when Kyle Lowry was there,” Duren said. “Now that I’m in the Big 5, Coach G has talked to me about the history of it and how big it is for the program and how big it can be for me. He basically said that if you win the Big 5, you lock your name in the history books. That’s a big accomplishment.”

Only three other times in La Salle’s history (1968-69, 1974-75, 1989-90) have the Explorers gone a perfect 4-0 in the Big 5. Most of the Explorers weren’t even alive the last time it happened and every other team in the city has accomplished the feat at least once since then.

That makes the possibility of a city sweep even more appealing to the La Salle players, many of whom came to the school to bring the program back to the level it once was.

“That was pretty much what we had in mind when we came to La Salle,” Duren said. “I wanted to get them back on that stage where we’re talked about as one of the best teams in the city – and one of the best teams in the country. Throughout the last two years, I think we’ve done a good job of that.”

With Duren and Galloway combining for more than 30 points per game – and both shooting over 40 percent from three-point range – the Explorers (18-6 overall, 8-3 Atlantic 10) are certainly on pace for their best season in at least 20 years.

But before they worry about trying to capture the Atlantic 10 championship or earning their first NCAA tournament berth since 1992, they’re focused on winning the Big 5 – which, if history is any indicator, will mean they’re good enough to make the Big Dance. That’s something that Giannini has been preaching throughout the season.

“It’s a big deal,” the La Salle coach said. “And that’s for a bunch of reasons. First, not many teams can beat Penn, Villanova, St. Joe’s and Temple [in the same year]. … There’s no city with the level of teams that we have. To be able to win the city title is a big deal.

“And history proves it. The last 13 years the Big 5 champion is an NCAA tournament team. The surest route for any of us to get to the NCAA tournament is to have success against each other.”

If La Salle can beat Temple, the Explorers would match the Owls with their fourth perfect 4-0 Big 5 season.

Villanova and St. Joe’s have both gone 4-0 in the city eight times since the Big 5 was formed in 1955, while Penn has done it five times.

The Explorers know the history.

And now they want to make some of their own.

“It’s my senior year and it’s my last chance,” Galloway said. “So why not go out Big 5 champions?”