La Salle faces a stiff test early

Posted: November 11, 2013

Let's get the mutual respect out of the way.

"I knew how good Manhattan was," said La Salle coach John Giannini. "This Manhattan team is going to have an outstanding year."

"They'll be right back where they were," Manhattan coach Steve Masiello said about La Salle.

This was no casual season-opening get-together. The Explorers had forced overtime Saturday afternoon at Tom Gola Arena after being down by eight points with just over two minutes left in regulation. The sold-out place, still afloat from March Madness memories, exploded when Tyrone Garland hit the tying basket, his Southwest Philly Floater this time coming from the top of the key.

Manhattan forced the second OT after the Explorers seemed to have it under control.

By the time it was over, Manhattan on top, 99-90 after two OTs, the whole place looked worn out. Garland fouled out with 28 points, ripping his headband off, taking a seat. Garland stayed in it for a couple of extra beats when the buzzer sounded.

The winners had three starters from the Bronx, one from Brooklyn, and their leading scorer from Long Island. Three Philly-bred starters carried the banner for the city game for La Salle.

Giannini knew the Explorers were starting with one of the tougher nonconference opponents on their schedule, the preseason MAAC favorites, with five starters plus their injured star of the previous season back. Glad he started with the Jaspers?

"I am now," Giannini said. "Now that's it over."

What he meant, he said, was that his players maybe needed this to remind themselves how to play with more of an edge right off the bat, not just with a game on the line.

"These guys don't like to lose. It's a bitter lesson," Giannini said, adding that he was beating himself up for a play that went awry when the Explorers had the lead in the last minute of OT. He pointed at himself for not making sure the ball got into point guard Tyreek Duren's hands right away in the backcourt, La Salle up three.

The sleepless nights start early this year.

At halftime, the Explorers had raised a 2013 NCAA Sweet 16 banner with as little fanfare as possible. The players and coaches were downstairs in the locker room. A youth karate team quickly took the court for a halftime show.

When it was done, the visitors deserved to win this one because when the ball was up for grabs, Manhattan kept grabbing it. The Jaspers had 24 offensive rebounds, while La Salle managed just 19 defensive boards. Four Manhattan starters had more rebounds than any Explorers starter.

"That difference is just incredibly glaring," Giannini said. "They're big, they're strong, they're athletic. But we've played those kinds of teams before. It shouldn't be that big. . . .

"Again, our attitudes are great, but I think we needed that lesson again, about how tiny the difference is between winning and losing."

Garland knew all about the new NCAA rules that are supposed to clamp down on hand-checking. His first step already was a major weapon, a significant factor when the Explorers won three times during March Madness. Under the new rules, it almost seems unfair.

"As soon as Coach found out the rule, that's all he told me: 'Every time you get a chance to drive, just drive,' " Garland said after he had done exactly that. His afternoon included 14 foul shots. He was under control throughout, adding four assists. He knows how to get right on somebody's hip. Opponents almost have no choice but to foul.

"He did a lot of good things. He can certainly score the ball," Giannini said. La Salle's coach couldn't help but point out, however, that the senior guard was a culprit in the difference-making area. "I just would like him to get a rebound in 44 minutes."

This game also was a reminder that memorable games can appear from anywhere. All the realignment that leaves people confused about which school is in which league doesn't matter at all when a bunch of hard-edged hoop players get in a hot gym.

"Well, basketball season's here," Manhattan's coach said first thing when it was over. "That's for sure."

"This isn't the summertime," Garland added a little later.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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