By JOE FEDOROWICZ
Reeling from two consecutive losses at the Paradise Jam tournament, La Salle came into a game against the Hartford Hawks needing a win. Behind a strong second half opened by a run of nice plays from the Explorer frontcourt, the home team was able to separate themselves from the Hawks, going on to win 75-62.
“The second half against Northern Iowas was the most bizarre I’ve ever had one of my teams play,” John Giannini said about his team’s shooting woes over the weekend. “Good players with track records of shooting success, refused to take open shots. Their confidence was shaken. When you don’t take good shots, you are left with bad shots.”
In this game, La Salle still struggled with their shooting, hitting just 30.8% of their shots from deep against Hartford, but it was a more confident, consistent Explorer team throughout the game. With three players in double-figures and two others with nine points, it was comforting to La Salle fans and the team’s coach after last week’s troubles.
“Today, we took the shots. And as long as we take them, I feel it will swing back,” Giannini noted about the offense today. “Jerrell went up strong, he just isn’t finishing. Tyreek’s threes all look good, but they go in and out. If we keep shooting, the averages will even out.”
Leading the way today was Tyrone Garland, who scored 17 points, 14 of which came in the second half. He was joined in double figures by Steve Zack, who added 15 points and seven rebounds. Tyreek Duren notched 10 points. Khalid Lewis and Jerrell Wright each added nine. The game was Lewis’ first at home without a cast on his hand, and Giannini has noticed the improvement as the once-broken bone fully heals.
“We had guys not playing the way we want them to, and each of their reasons for that is as individual as the next,” Giannini said of the last few weeks. “I think we were much better today. Khalid got to practice for the second time in seven weeks.”
The first half displayed La Salle’s recent struggles from deep, as the Explorers shot just 1-8 from beyond the arc. The empty possessions allowed Hartford, who turned it over 12 times in the first 20 minutes, to remain within striking distance before the first buzzer. Couple the poor shooting with the Hawks’ stingy 3-2 zone, and La Salle was never able to get in much of a rhythm offensively. Though they led 33-26, Giannini’s team never looked in sync on the offensive or defensive end.
“I was pleased with our effort. We did a lot of good things,” Giannini said of the half and game as a whole. Hartford has struggled offensively this year, and that continued as the Hawks finished the game with 18 turnovers. “We competed defensively and had guys play more the way we’re used to seeing them play. How we want to see them play.”
In the second half, it was La Salle’s bigs that took over early. With the guards being halted from both penetration and available shots, the trio of Zack, Wright and Rohan Brown scored the Explorers first 13 points of the half. Opening the lead to 11, it was a comfortable cushion until Hartford put up a slight run of their own. The Hawks were able to draw the lead to four, threes from Lewis and Sam Mills, coupled with continued scoring from the big men, pushed the La Salle lead to 15.
Down the stretch, Garland was able to score some big points and convert from the foul line, leading La Salle to victory. The senior began the game on the bench, where he started most games last season. The explosive guard has severely struggled from the field and, despite leading his team in points, has had some shot selection problems throughout the year. Today, he was an efficient 5-10 and 6-7 from the line and played 29 minutes in a reserve role.
“He’d like to start. There are 13 guys on the team that want to start, but I think Tyrone is better off the bench,” Giannini said of Garland, who can score in bunches but doesn’t always bring the defense intensity that his coach desires. “When you bring him and Khalid (Lewis) off the bench, you have that spurt-ability factor. If you start Tyrone and bring a DJ Peterson in, DJ is going to win a lot of games for you but he isn’t going to steal a ball and hit a quick three.”
I think we give the other team headaches by bringing some really explosive, quick guys off the bench and starting guys like DJ that are rock solid. -John Giannini, on Tyrone Garland and Khalid Lewis
Off the Schneid: With the win, the Explorers avoid losing their third consecutive game. The last time La Salle did that was during the 2011-2012 season, when La Salle lost a trio of games to St. Joe’s, Richmond and St. Louis. The Explorers, who only lost back to back games once last season, were coming off of two straight losses.
In to Zack: Zack continues to make his case for La Salle’s most improved player, as the big man was just a few rebounds short of his third straight double-double. The junior is averaging over 10 points and nine rebounds after today’s game, leading the team in boards. He is no longer just an ancillary option in the Explorers offense, as Giannini’s game plan has been to dump it inside to his bigs early. A pretty good interior passer, Zack is able to go inside-out while also handling ball screens for the guards.
Up Next: La Salle travels to Madison Square Garden to face Stony Brook on Saturday at 11 a.m. Philahoops will have live coverage.