La Salle coach John Giannini says Explorers earned attention

Temple's Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (32) and the Owls will face Xavier on Thursday and St. Louis on Saturday.
Temple's Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson (32) and the Owls will face Xavier on Thursday and St. Louis on Saturday. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
Posted: January 09, 2013

La Salle had its share of highs and lows during its nonconference season, but coach John Giannini believes the Explorers did enough to perhaps earn postseason attention depending on how they fare in Atlantic Ten play.

"I think we did the minimum to be considered a potential postseason team," he said. "I think another win or two and we'd be in much better shape, but I think we did the minimum of what we needed to do to be a team that could be looked at."

The Explorers (10-3) won on the road at Hartford, Rider, and Northeastern, and thumped Penn State at the Palestra. But they suffered a bad home loss to Central Connecticut State and played a poor second half in a loss at Miami, a game they led at halftime.

"The Miami game was the first time in two years that I thought we didn't play hard defensively and we didn't do what they know is right defensively," Giannini said.

La Salle opens conference play Wednesday night at Charlotte.

Back to camp

With a week off between games and classes not in session, coach Jay Wright decided to put Villanova through a minicamp of sorts with scrimmages and longer practices and film sessions.

"We spent a lot of time together," Wright said. "We didn't change anything - but we worked a lot on what we do, especially paying attention to detail. This is the last time this season we'll be able to work like this."

With road games coming up Wednesday night at South Florida and on Saturday afternoon at No. 7 Syracuse, Wright has changed the focus.

"We're having a short and sweet practice [Tuesday] at South Florida so we'll have fresh legs" for Wednesday, he said. "Then we have to come back right away and go to Syracuse for a noon start Saturday. So it's all about fresh legs and fresh minds. Last week, it was not about fresh legs."

A stout start

St. Joseph's doesn't get to ease into its A-10 schedule, opening Wednesday at Hagan Arena against Butler.

The Bulldogs are 12-2 and ranked No. 14 in the most recent Associated Press poll. Earlier this season they knocked former No. 1 Indiana from the unbeaten ranks. This is their first Atlantic Ten game, having joined the conference this season along with fellow heavyweight Virginia Commonwealth.

"I am enamored with Butler's balance," Hawks coach Phil Martelli said. "They basically have five guys averaging double figures and the guys they bring off the bench know what their role is."

Butler coach Brad Stevens, when asked during a conference call about St. Joseph's guards Carl Jones (15.6 points per game) and Langston Galloway (15.0), had high praise.

"I was having a good day until you mentioned those guys," he said. "They are awfully good."

Kid Quakers

Tony Hicks and Darien Nelson-Henry, two of the three freshmen in Penn's rotation, established career highs in the loss to La Salle. The 6-foot-2 Hicks made half of his 12 shots from the field and scored 14 points, while the 6-11 Nelson-Henry had eight points and grabbed eight rebounds.

"Obviously Tony has a lot of work ahead of him," Quakers coach Jerome Allen said. "But primarily in the first half, he was aggressive in his approach of taking it to the basket, shooting pull-ups and trying to make plays. Whether the ball goes in the basket is one thing. But whatever you do on the court, you must be aggressive and assertive."

As for Nelson-Henry, Allen said he is getting more comfortable as he receives more playing time.

"I think he's extremely talented," he said. "I think he has exceptional hands but he can't allow fatigue to make a loser out of him in terms of his effort. He has to get used to playing with guys that are just as big as him and just as strong as him."

More defensive

Drexel is hoping it has turned the corner with its defense, which in turn could lead to a reversal of its disappointing start.

The Dragons entered Tuesday night's home game against Northeastern 10th in the Colonial Athletic Association in field-goal percentage defense at 46.1 percent, compared with 39.2 percent last season. However, in their last four games before Tuesday, Drexel had held opponents to 42.9 percent shooting, going 2-2 in that stretch.

It was a marked improvement from the seven games before that. The Dragons allowed five of their opponents to shoot better than 50 percent over that time.

Entering Tuesday's game, the Dragons were 0-9 when allowing more than 60 points.

Road warriors

Temple is going from one tough road environment right into another one for the start of its Atlantic Ten season.

Kansas extended its home winning streak to 30 games by beating Temple, 69-62, Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse. The Owls will face Xavier on Thursday night at the Cintas Center in Cincinnati. And Temple (10-3) is 1-5 at Xavier's gym. The Owls' lone victory was a 69-54 decision on Jan. 22, 2005.

Overall, the Musketeers (7-6) are 85-11 against conference foes at their home gym - including 47-1 over their last six seasons.


Former Quaker Garvin Hunt thrilled to play Penn with La Salle

La Salle forward Garvin Hunt, a graduate student, saw just five minutes of playing time against Penn, but those five minutes meant an awful lot to him.

Hunt received his degree in architecture last May from Penn. He played for the Quakers in 2008-09 as a freshman and saw action in six games but decided not to play any more after that season.

He transferred to La Salle, where he is seeking a masters degree in business administration, and was allowed to play immediately after being welcomed by coach John Giannini. He played in his eighth game Saturday, one that held significant meaning.

"It was the first game I asked Coach G about when I decided to come here," the 6-foot-10 Hunt said. "I asked him when this game [against Penn] was. I was trying to get ready for this game ever since the summer, really. I haven't been getting a lot of time, but we've been winning, and that's all that counts. . . . This was a good experience to be part of the Big Five again and play my rival school."

"When you play against your alma mater, that's a very unusual thing," Giannini said. "He loves Penn. He chose to stay at Penn and get his degree. So it's just emotional, I would think, to play against your alma mater. I think it would be for anyone. It was unusual and he did a nice job."

- Joe Juliano


Contact Joe Juliano at jjuliano@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @joejulesinq.


This Week's Games

Analysis by Keith Pompey

TEMPLE

THURSDAY AT XAVIER, 7 P.M.: The Musketeers have won 47 of their last 48 games at Cintas Center against Atlantic Ten foes.  So look for the Owls to have their hands full while playing in a hostile environment.

SATURDAY VS. ST. LOUIS AT THE LIACOURAS CENTER, 6 P.M: 

The Billikens have the Atlantic Ten's best scoring defense, holding opponents to 55 points a game. Temple's Scootie Randall and Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson must break out of their shooting slumps.

ST. JOSEPH'S

WEDNESDAY VS. BUTLER, AT HAGAN ARENA, 7 P.M. (TCN):

The Bulldogs are making their Atlantic Ten debut. A win over the nation's 14th-ranked team would allow the Hawks to forget about a disappointing nonconference portion of the season.

SATURDAY AT DUQUESNE, 7 P.M.: At 7-7, the Dukes are having a less than stellar season. They're 6-1 at home, however, meaning this could be a tougher-than-expected road test for the Hawks.

LA SALLE

WEDNESDAY AT CHARLOTTE, 7:30 P.M.: The 49ers hold a 5-3 series advantage, yet the Explorers have won two straight and three of the last four series meetings. Charlotte has the nation's best field-goal percentage defense, holding teams to 36.8 percent shooting.

SATURDAY VS. RICHMOND AT TOM GOLA ARENA, 2 P.M.: The Spiders could be without forward Derrick Williams, who is expected to miss Wednesday's game against Rhode Island with a sprained ankle. If so, Lower Merion product Greg Robbins will be Richmond's only frontcourt player with college experience before this season.

PENN

SATURDAY AT PRINCETON, 6 P.M.: The Quakers open Ivy League play against the archrival Tigers. This could be a tough one for struggling Penn. Princeton is favored to win the league title.

VILLANOVA

WEDNESDAY AT SOUTH FLORIDA, 8 P.M. (PHL17): The Wildcats would like to improve on an impressive 7-1 record since the start of December. But the Bulls have won the last four meetings with Villanova.

SATURDAY AT SYRACUSE, NOON (6ABC): The seventh-ranked Orange lead the all-time series, 37-31. The Wildcats, however, have won three of the last four contests at the Carrier Dome.

DREXEL

SATURDAY AT JAMES MADISON, 4 P.M.: The Dragons begin the first of three straight Colonial Athletic Association road games when they face the Dukes. Drexel swept last season's two meetings.

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