Just like last season the La Salle Explorers got off to a slow start in non-conference play, and with that being the case the hope amongst the La Salle faithful is that this group will be able to duplicate the turnaround that resulted in a run to the Sweet 16. On Sunday afternoon Dr. John Giannini’s team moved to 2-0 in Atlantic 10 play with a 75-56 win at Duquesne, handing the Dukes their first conference defeat.
Tyreek Duren led the way offensively with 23 points and six assists, and forward Steve Zack posted his seventh double-double of the season with 13 points and 11 rebounds. As a team La Salle shot 52.9% from the field and 10-for-22 from beyond the arc, with their shotmaking ability countering their 17 turnovers on the day.
By comparison Duquesne shot 35.8% from the field and 4-for-16 from three, and given how well the Explorers shot the Dukes were ill-equipped to making up that 18-point disadvantage from beyond the arc. Since losing at Miami the Explorers have won three straight games, and with the likes of Duren, Zack and Tyrone Garland (17 points on Sunday) they have the pieces needed to factor into the Atlantic 10 race.
In the Atlantic 10 opener for both La Salle outlasted George Washington 76-72 in Philadelphia and their guards led the way. Sam Mills scored a team-best 17 points, with Tyrone Garland (15) and Tyreek Duren (13) also scoring in double figures for the Explorers, who are looking to capture some of the magic that resulted in a trip to the Sweet 16 last season. La Salle struggled in non-conference play in 2012-13, only to rebound with an 11-5 mark in the Atlantic 10.
Isaiah Armwood led three George Washington players in double figures with 15 points to go along with 12 rebounds, and the Colonials had a chance to tie the game in the final seconds. However Joe McDonald was called for a charge with four seconds remaining, and on the ensuing possession Duren hit two free throws to provide the final margin.
If there’s a concern for La Salle moving forward it’s rebounding, with George Washington rebounding 42.5% of its missed shots on the night. La Salle entered the game eighth in the Atlantic 10 in defensive rebounding percentage, and besides Jerell Wright and Steve Zack there isn’t much depth for Dr. John Giannini to rely on. But that was the case last season, and the Explorers were able to account for this with effort and solid guard play. Can they do it again? Thursday’s victory is a step in the right direction.
While their 99-90 double overtime loss to Manhattan on Saturday afternoon qualified as one of the best games of the opening weekend, the way in which the defeat occurred revealed a big issue for the La Salle Explorers. That issue was rebounding, with the Jaspers out-rebounding La Salle 51-33 and finishing the game with a staggering offensive rebounding percentage of 55.8%.
So entering their game on Tuesday morning against Quinnipiac, which has been one of the nation’s best rebounding teams in each of the last two seasons, it was clear that Dr. John Giannini’s team would need a better performance on the glass in order to avoid an 0-2 start. The Explorers were by no means dominant on the glass against the Bobcats but they held their own, breaking even (43-43) on their way to the 73-67 victory.
Tyreek Duren led four Explorers in double figures with 17 points, but shot selection is another area in which La Salle will need to improve as they inch closer to the start of Atlantic 10 play. To be fair that issue’s to be expected at this stage, with La Salle beginning the (in-game) process of adjusting to life without leading scorer Ramon Galloway.
Galloway, who averaged 17.2 points per game last season, factored into nearly 29% of La Salle’s possessions and posted a shot percentage of 28.9% per kenpom.com. Even with key contributors such as Duren, Tyrone Garland and Jerrell Wright back, that’s a significant personnel loss and it will take this group some time to adjust.
As for Quinnipiac, which moved from the NEC to the MAAC during the summer, rebounding will continue to be a strength for them with senior forward Ike Azotam (17 points, seven rebounds) leading the way. And in freshman Kasim Chandler (team-high 19 points), the Bobcats have a guard fans will certainly enjoy watching develop. But on Tuesday it was La Salle’s improved rebounding effort that carried the day, resulting in both teams moving to 1-1 on the season.