La Salle gets a win and some confidence

Posted: February 28, 2014

THE ELEMENTS of the game, Dr. John Giannini said, are not complicated and do not change. Confidence, said the man who got his undergraduate degree in psychology, is guided by one overriding principle. Win and you have it. Lose and you don't.

La Salle had it the previous two seasons. The Explorers lost it about a month ago in Olean, N.Y., and then had gut-wrenching home losses to Atlantic 10 powers Saint Louis and VCU when they played more than well enough to win. Without warning, the Explorers had lost eight of nine and five straight.

So, it was St. Bonaventure again, this time at Gola Arena. And the team that hasn't been able to make shots all season suddenly could not miss, hitting its first seven threes, getting to the rim, making the game look simple on offense again. Still, it required excellent late free-throw shooting and six consecutive defensive stops to end the losing, as La Salle won, 75-67.

"Our confidence has been down," Giannini said. "Losing does that to you. Missing shots does that to you . . . You could lose a game or two and still keep your confidence, but when you go on a streak or you shoot 39 percent for the year, it affects you. The only way to get more confident is to win . . . There's no talking yourself into feeling better."

The Explorers (13-14, 5-8 A-10) could not shake the Bonnies, despite all those threes and 70 percent shooting into the second half. But they won as they used to win so often - play smart at the finish, get stops when they had to get them and make free throws, nine of 10 in the final 2 minutes to take a one-point lead and set the final margin.

Senior point guard Tyreek Duren had 18 points and was 8-for-8 from the foul line. La Salle got 12 each from its other starting guards - Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland, 18 from Jerrell Wright, along with nine points and eight rebounds from Steve Zack. D.J. Peterson came off the bench to make two threes and made Bonnies star Matthew Wright (18 points) take a difficult shot with the game in doubt.

Wright and Youssou Ndoye (16) points were a difficult outside/inside combo for La Salle to handle. The Bonnies (16-12, 6-8) are better than their record, with eight losses in 11 games decided by six points or fewer. This really was not an eight-point game until the finish.

La Salle came into the game last in scoring (64.8 points) in conference games, 12th in field-goal percentage (39.9) and 11th in three-point percentage (32.3). The Explorers did cool off late, making only seven of 19 after starting 19 of 27 and missing their last six threes. So they turned to the free-throw game.

It was actually Wright, who had missed five of six from the line, who made the key free throw, a front end of a one-and-one with his team leading 70-67 and only 30 seconds left.

"Not only did it give us a boost, when the other team realizes it's now a two-possession game, that affects the other team's confidence some too and their strategy," Giannini said.

Basketball, the coach said, "is such a simple game. This isn't football. There's not a million different scenarios. You got to get through a screen, get a hand up in someone's face, box out and get the rebound. And it's that way every single time your whole life."

And when shots started to fall, "everybody had a sense of confidence," said Duren, who actually has shot the ball extremely well during the conference season (33 of 66 from the arc).

Garland, especially, has had a difficult shooting season.

"To finally see a couple shots go in just was good," he said. "I actually fed off Sam and D.J. when they started making shots. That's how we basically played last year where everybody made shots. That's when we get rolling. I haven't seen us play like that in a long time."

The losing has not been easy, mostly because it was so unexpected.

"It's been stressful," Garland acknowledged. "Sometimes, I can't even sleep at night."

The streak is over. It is now about what is next.

"We know that any given day we can beat anybody in this league," Duren said. "We know we have the talent . . . I'm very confident in our team. I know we're just as good as anybody out there."

And looking back does not help.

"One of the ways you keep guys working hard in a situation like this is you emphasize the past doesn't matter," Giannini said. "If me or our players were to focus on the recent past, we would give no effort. We'd be too sad, we'd be too depressed. So, it's over and now we're moving ahead."

They will move ahead with a one-game winning streak, three regular-season games and the A-10 Tournament on the horizon.

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