UMBC (2-0) challenged the Explorers with man defense in the first half and promptly fell behind, 32-28. Darnell Harris scored 10 of those points for La Salle, which hit 11-for-23 from the floor for the half.
But UMBC coach Randy Monroe, a former La Salle assistant, made the proper changes at the half, using more fullcourt pressure and falling back into various zones.
"We did a good job of changing defenses," said Monroe, who assisted under Speedy Morris from 1988 to '93. "We could press, then fall back into a zone and we mixed it up. We doubled down well. I know John likes to post his guards. Rodney [Green] is as good as anyone posting up down there."
The defensive change rattled the Explorers to the tune of hitting only six of their first 23 shots in the second half, falling behind by as many as 16 after leading for the entire first half.
As well as the Retrievers defended, they were helped immensely by La Salle's lack of offense. Through most of the second half, three players dotted the perimeter for the Explorers, while there was little or no movement from the two inside players. That made life difficult for Harris, the team's best outside shooter.
"Harris is one of the best shooters I've ever seen," Monroe said. "We were concerned about him. We know what he's capable of doing."
Said Giannini: "It's hard for Darnell to get open shots when players are holding the ball."
Harris did score 18 points, but eight of them came after the Retrievers had built their biggest lead at 70-54 with 1 minute, 12 seconds left. Rodney Green led the team with 19, including his first two career three-pointers.
Defensively, La Salle had all kinds of trouble trying to contain the trio of Darryl Proctor (23 points, 10 rebounds), Brian Hodges (22 points, school-record 12-for-12 from the line) and Cavell Johnson (17 points, nine rebounds). Those three scored 28 of the team's final 30 points.
"Johnson is a fifth-year senior. Proctor is in his fourth year [a junior eligible after transferring from Coppin State], and Hodges is a senior," Giannini said. They're not only a lot older than us, but they are good."
And the difference physically was evident against the Explorers, whose inside game consisted mostly of freshmen and sophomores all night.
"A couple of our guys had surprisingly low energy," Giannini said. "It's a disappointing first game, but I know that I have to make this team better. And they are such good kids. They've worked so hard in the offseason that I know we'll get better. That's what makes today really confusing. For a team that would have worked so hard from March until now, it's very surprising that we didn't have a more maniacal effort defensively."
As for positives, Giannini didn't really see any, saying: "Nothing positive. Except you learn more from losses than you do from wins." *