Explorers ride into tourney

Earl Pettis pushes down court after a steal. The senior was instrumental in a win that gave La Salle a 20-victory season.
Earl Pettis pushes down court after a steal. The senior was instrumental in a win that gave La Salle a 20-victory season. (RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)

La Salle stormed past St. Bonaventure to enter postseason play on a winning note.

Posted: March 04, 2012

Jerrell Wright's rim-shaking dunk early tied the game and La Salle never gave up the lead in its 71-61 win over St. Bonaventure on Saturday afternoon.

Fans in the packed Tom Gola Arena energized the Explorers on Senior Day, when coach John Giannini's team earned its 20th win and the No. 7 seed in the Atlantic Ten tournament. La Salle will host tenth-seeded Richmond on Tuesday in the first round.

Giannini said Richmond plays a different style of basketball from a lot of other teams in the league, and that his players need to continue the tight defense they've been playing as of late.

"You got to get in that mind-set of just expecting someone to cut you and read you," he said. "They're a pain to play against, and I mean that as a compliment."

Sophomore guard Tyreek Duren led La Salle (20-11, 9-7 A-10) with 21 points, but it was senior Earl Pettis' day. He ended his final regular-season game at home with 16 points, including his 1,000th NCAA point in the second half.

Pettis, a Philadelphia native (Neumann-Goretti) who transferred from Rutgers, also contributed three rebounds, three assists and a game-high five steals. He said getting the win on Senior Day was more important to him than getting his 1,000th point.

"It's been a long time coming - it's been a long road for me," he said. "It was real emotional to finally have my senior night."

La Salle reached 20 wins for the first time since the 1991-92 season. Although most of the players were too young to remember, because many are from the area, it meant a lot to be part of a team with that kind of success.

Senior Matt Sheehan, a native of nearby Havertown, switched sports from football to basketball at La Salle, and Saturday was his first basketball start since his freshman year at Episcopal Academy.

"I definitely wasn't sure how I was going to handle it," he said. "The emotions were just . . . it all just came crashing down when I walked out."

St. Bonaventure (17-11, 10-6) forward Andrew Nicholson scored his 2,000th point en route to a team-high 19 points in his team's loss. The 6-foot-8 senior is a strong candidate to win the A-10 player of the year award, and has led St. Bonaventure into the A-10 tournament as the No. 4 seed.

"It took great effort by our big guys, and great effort from our guards disrupting their offense and making it hard to pass it to him," Giannini said of Nicholson. "We beat an outstanding team and an outstanding player in Nicholson, but their team is so much more than just Nicholson."

Contact Dan Moberger at dmoberger@phillynews.com

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