Black Friday for Philly basketball teams

Tough to swallow: La Salle's Earl Pettis after the Explorers fell short against St. Louis. They had used the events of the day as a little extra push, trying to carry a "Philly pride" torch in A.C., to no avail.
Tough to swallow: La Salle's Earl Pettis after the Explorers fell short against St. Louis. They had used the events of the day as a little extra push, trying to carry a "Philly pride" torch in A.C., to no avail. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: March 10, 2012

ATLANTIC CITY - At halftime, determined to hang in, the La Salle Explorers told each other they were it, the only ones left. They used the events of the day as a little extra push, trying to carry a "Philly pride" torch, as Explorers guard Ramon Galloway put it.

Soon enough, that torch was extinguished. In the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Ten tournament, the Philly schools fell like dominoes, Temple and then St. Joseph's and finally La Salle, their shore-homecourt advantage moot on a high-octane but ultimately brutal night of decent hoops but bad results for the schools from up the Expressway.

Let's spin it this way, though. This A-10 weekend was supposed to be a completely wide-open set of games. Sure enough, it is. Phil Martelli had said people shouldn't be shocked by any surprising result. Perfectly put, as it turned out.

"This . . . it hurts. It hurts," said the Hawks coach after his team played for its life but fell one hoop short to St. Bonaventure, going down, 71-68.

The pain obviously was amplified because the Hawks still had hopes of reaching the final and maybe catching an NCAA at-large bid. La Salle knew it had to win it all but really drew the short straw in the quarterfinals, facing NCAA-bound St. Louis.

"It would be hard to play the game of basketball better than St. Louis does," said Explorers coach John Giannini, whose team was within a basket with two minutes left, but fell, 78-71. Giannini talked of his pride for his 20-win team - "This team was in every game we played, up until that last minute" - and admitted it would be a "big deal" if the Explorers were to get an NIT bid.

The Owls, who fell to Massachusetts, 77-71, obviously felt the least pain since they are NCAA-bound.

"I don't think it will be a challenge at all," said Owls coach Fran Dunphy of getting his squad emotionally ready for the real March Madness. "We get down, but we don't stay down."

So no traffic issues on the Expressway the next couple of days as the A-10 tourney leaves Boardwalk Hall quietly, and for the last time.

Bert Parks used to croon "There she is" to Miss Americas from the stage here, so Boardwalk Hall has seen bigger things than the A-10 tournament come and go over the years. But with the festivities moving to truly-neutral Brooklyn next year, the Philly schools will feel the loss most acutely.

That's the theory anyway. Not this season, but in five previous years, Philly schools had gone 17-7. The advantage was almost as strong as the old days in the Palestra. The rest of the field will live with the emptier stands, with the tournament getting more and wide open by the game.

La Salle was behind from the start after St. Louis grabbed a 14-2 lead. The Explorers held their own at both ends, not looking fazed by the stakes. They just couldn't keep the Billikens from getting to the rim on a couple of late crucial possessions.

Not to be a scold, but for Temple to make a run this month, let's assume Khalif Wyatt isn't late for any more team functions due to an inability to adhere to team "timing" requirements. Wyatt didn't start, and while T.J. DiLeo filled in capably and the Owls got off to a good start, up 18-13 when Wyatt entered the game, the junior guard is too important a player to mess with the team's chemistry at this late date.

"He's a really good guy and he does not have a malicious bone in his body - on occasion he thinks his time is more important than everybody else's," said Dunphy, whose team was done in by a 15-0 start to the second half.

In the St. Joe's game, A-10 player of the year Andrew Nicholson was the unstoppable force for St. Bonaventure, scoring 25 points, then making the big plays at the end, taking a charge from Langston Galloway and blocking a last-possession shot by Carl Jones, after Jones dribbled to the baseline for a shot despite being guarded by a forward who was 9 inches taller. Jones had been terrific, leading the Hawks with 24 points, but his confidence led him to a tough spot in the end.

On a week that has Temple hoops leaving for the Big East after one more year, the A-10 -- once headquartered on Locust Street, now in Virginia -- feels less like Philly's league than ever. Maybe this was the logical A.C. finale after all.


Contact Mike Jensen at 215-854-4489 or mjensen@phillynews.com or @Jensenoffcampus on Twitter. Read his "Off Campus" columns at www.philly.com/offcamp

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