By ADAM BOOTH
For La Salle (7-6), the season to this point had been a slight disappointment, but after a 13-day layoff, John Giannini must have hoped that his team would come back both healthier and improved.
Facing Penn (2-10) in their last contest before Atlantic 10 play, the struggling Quakers were exactly what the doctor ordered, as the Explorers easily dispatched the Quakers, winning 76-57.
“Our team came out hard in the second half,” Giannini said, very impressed with his team’s play. “I am really proud of them for that. Shows a lot of growth and continues maturation.”
La Salle’s length and athleticism were on display for most of the contest as the Explorers racked up 13 second-chance points, 32 points in the paint and forced 15 turnovers. Even more vital to the Explorers’ success was the play of Jerrell Wright, who scored 21 points on 8-9 shooting. Wright was La Salle’s first option for most of this game, clearly a mismatch for the Quaker front court.
“We have been approaching practice like games,” Wright said after the game. “We came out anxious to play.”
Wright was joined in double figures by Tyrone Garland and Tyreek Duren, who finished with 14 points, and Steve Zack, who added 10.
For Penn, who have now lost seven games in a row, this loss is just more evidence in a lack of size and talent for the Quakers. The Explorers used their size on the inside to box out Penn on the defensive end, as well as grab 16 offensive rebounds. Overall, La Salle out rebounded the Quakers 45-29.
Darien Nelson-Henry, who was out the past 3 games with a concussion never saw the floor all game, despite an obvious miss match the whole game in the paint.
“We knew he wasn’t going to play,” coach Jerome Allen said. “But he wasn’t decoy.”
Nelson-Henry’s health has been a question for the better part of 4 weeks now.
“I can’t say he will be ready next Saturday,” Allen said about the future. “We aren’t going to play him until we know he is read and can go full blast.”
Fran Dougherty was looked at again to pick up the slack for the Quaker big men, ending up with 14 points and 9 rebounds. Still, he could not really seem to find a rhythm in this contest.
Tony Hicks once again paced the Quakers with 16 points on 5-12 shooting.
The Explorers would open the game on a 16-7 run, a nine-point lead that would shrink to six shortly after that. That is as close as Penn would get, as La Salle held a 36-20 lead at halftime. In that half, Penn was 7-23 from the field and 2-12 from deep, compared to 11-25 and 4-9 for the Explorers. The Quakers’ troubles matriculated to the foul line as well, as Allen’s team was just 4-9 from the stripe.
“At George Mason and Rider we had some miscues,” Penn’s coach said about his team’s performances. “But we keep ourselves in a position to tie the game up. The effort and the approach is there. But tonight it was not.”
The second half was all Wright and La Salle, as the Explorers would get eight straight points to start the half from the junior. That run was the beginning of a 20-3 stretch to start the half that put this game out of reach.
“We were prepared for their personnel and what they run,” Giannini said about his team’s scouting of Penn. “It is hard to change the overall game plan for each team though.”
For both teams, this was the final game before the conference schedules start. La Salle hosts Goerge Washington on Thursday while the Quakers will host Princeton a week from today. Philahoops will have coverage from both.