Mills takes charge for La Salle

Posted: January 10, 2014

SAM MILLS might be the best anonymous player in recent Big 5 history. He does all the little things that make the difference between winning and losing.

Last night, as the start of the Atlantic 10 season offered La Salle a second opportunity after an underwhelming nonconference record, it was Mills who did all the little things again and made the two biggest plays of the game at Gola Arena.

It was Mills' corner three that gave La Salle late breathing space. And after a very late turnover gave George Washington life, it was Mills who stepped up to draw a charge from Joe McDonald with the game potentially hanging in the balance. Official Wally Rutecki called the charge and La Salle, after leading practically the entire game, made two final free throws to beat GW, 76-72.

"I just wanted to make a big play for my team," Mills said. "I saw him coming over for a wide-open layup so I had to stop him by any means, so I just came over and took that charge."

His coach has been watching it for 3 1/2 seasons.

"Sam's charge just gigantic, kind of really sums up what's Sam's all about," La Salle coach John Giannini said.

In addition to scoring a game-high 17 points, Mills, who was 5-for-7 from three, also drew the assignment on GW's senior star Maurice Creek, who finished with eight points, half his average.

"That's what he's capable of doing," senior point guard Tyreek Duren said. "I'm not surprised."

It was the Explorers' success in the A-10 last season that got them NCAA trips to Dayton, Kansas City and Los Angeles. This was a terrific start as they were getting no walkover. George Washington had the most nonconference wins (12) in school history. And the Colonials had beaten serious teams - Creighton, Georgia, Maryland, Miami and Manhattan. The Zeek (Isaiah Armwood) and Creek Show had played well just about everywhere.

It was Mills and fellow senior guards Duren and Tyrone Garland who were the difference. In fact, it looked a lot like last season.

Garland had 15 and Duren 13, so the guards combined for 45 of the 76 points. They needed them all.

La Salle really seemed to have some control in the first half, leading almost all of the way after beating the George Washington zones with extra passing and three-point shooting from Mills. When GW gave up the zone for a few possessions, Garland blew by his man to the rim play after play. There was Duren showing his old speed on a blow-by to the rim and a touchdown pass from Jerrell Wright to Mills.

The Explorers' halfcourt defense was as good as it's been all season - until it wasn't. GW, which came into the game averaging 75.7 points, had just 18 points with 3 minutes left in the first half. The Colonials finally found some rhythm and scored on their final six possessions to get it to 31-31.

Duren is now one steal from becoming just the 10th player in Big 5 and A-10 history to accumulate 1,400 points, 400 assists and 200 steals. That is a serious list, with La Salle's Doug Overton, Villanova's Kerry Kittles and Saint Joseph's Jameer Nelson, among others.

"I think it's definitely the best game we played as a whole," Duren said.

GW (12-3, 0-1 A-10) shot just 38.3 percent but hung around because of 17 offensive rebounds leading to 18 second-chance points.

"It's our best win so I think you'd have to say it's our best effort," Giannini said.

La Salle is now 8-6 and 1-0. The first chance at a second chance ended well.

"The nice thing about the A-10 is we're 0-and-0 [before last night]," Giannini said. "Because of what we've done, nobody considers us a contender anymore and now we have to prove ourselves all over again. We're not going anywhere. We're going to be a contender."

With these guards, they might be.

"When one of the best point guards is a shell of his former himself, that's a big problem," Giannini said of Duren's foot problems, which have mostly disappeared. "It's like for the first 10 games we lost [the departed] Ramon [Galloway] and Tyreek."

And there was the defense, which was great.

"I think our defense won the game for us and we're making some shots," Giannini said.

Mills stood out.

"That charge is the thing that defines players as winners and can alter your season," Giannini said.

La Salle had eight blocks. And shot 48.9 percent, and 9-for-20 from three. It was enough, just enough.