Wright comes up big for La Salle

Posted: March 23, 2013

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - For La Salle's Jerrell Wright, standing at the free throw line with 30 seconds to play Friday and the purple-clad crowd at the Sprint Center yelling in one continuous deafening roar, it came down to one word.


Wright, the Explorers' 6-foot-8 sophomore center who went into the game shooting 60 percent from the line, connected on two free throws to give his team the lead. Then he hit an insurance freebie with 9.6 seconds left in 13th-seeded La Salle's improbable 63-61 victory over No. 4 Kansas State in a second-round NCAA West Regional game.

Wright led La Salle (23-9), which plays in Sunday's third round against No. 12 Mississippi, with 21 points including 9-of-10 from the free throw line. The two biggest came at the 30-second mark after the Explorers had lost every bit of a 19-point first-half lead, then clawed their way back after the Wildcats (27-8) gained the advantage.

After going 1 of 5 from the line in La Salle's first-round win over Boise State, Wright and coach John Giannini worked on having what the coach called "a mental routine" for Friday's game, where maybe 90 percent of the crowd of 18,301 was rooting for Kansas State.

"He's a kid that wants to do well, and these environments have a lot of pressure. So we just wanted to give him a mental routine to take his mind off of the surroundings," Giannini said. "I told him just stare at the rim and think of the word, 'In'. And he shot the ball great."

Wright, a graduate of Dobbins Tech, said he had "no butterflies" when he took the line on either occasion in the closing stages.

"Coach just told me every time I shoot a free throw to have the same form. Keep my focus," he said. "Today I just thought about 'In.'

"When I first got to the line, I noticed the crowd. But like Coach said, I was focused on the one word."

While he battled Jordan Henriquez, a senior who was three inches taller, in the paint, Wright also went 6 of 6 from the field. He scored two of the Explorers' three field goals in the second half, including the last one with 7 minutes, 55 seconds to play, and wound up scoring La Salle's final nine points despite picking up his fourth foul with 6:17 to play.

"We always have confidence in Jerrell," said senior teammate Ramon Galloway. "We always know he can play this way. It's not really a shocker, but we're just glad that he really stepped up big-time for us."

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

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