No magical run this season, La Salle comes back to earth

La Salle senior Tyreek Duren "passed, he scored, he gave us poise," coach John Giannini said.
La Salle senior Tyreek Duren "passed, he scored, he gave us poise," coach John Giannini said. (   MIKE LAWRIE / Getty Images)
Posted: March 15, 2014

NEW YORK - It was obvious weeks or maybe months ago: There would be no sequel on Olney Avenue, no magic-carpet reprise. The Southwest Philly Floater was a singular blessed event. This year's La Salle Explorers right away proved mortal, and often as not, beatable.

A year after pulling up a game short of the NCAA's Elite Eight, the Explorers failed to make the Atlantic 10's final eight, losing Thursday afternoon to St. Bonaventure, 82-72, and finishing 15-16.

Local hoops history will always have room for the 2013 Explorers. The '14 version, featuring most of the same guys, slips away quietly. Tyrone Garland, who hit that shot he famously nicknamed last March, tried seven shots Thursday. None needed a name.

"Just sad," Explorers point guard Tyreek Duren said of the postgame locker room at the Barclays Center. "Definitely a little emotion."

But not a lot of emotion. Duren was as glum as you'd expect, but he wasn't speaking through tear-soaked eyes. The senior has built up some hoops wisdom. It's not as if Duren couldn't see how the end might play out, although he surely would have preferred it wouldn't have been with his layup being swatted away by an adrenalized Bonnie.

I can still picture Explorers coach John Giannini in a hallway in Los Angeles last year after his team was eliminated by Wichita State. He was excited about this season, going through the roster, convinced there could be an encore.

Going into this season, my mistake was undervaluing departed guard Ramon Galloway in this way: When last year's Explorers lost, it was usually because Galloway had a bad shooting night, and he had his share.

So I took his bad games out of the equation, ignoring that the Explorers might need his many good games to carry the day.

Giannini didn't bring up the lack of fire he'd talked about a few weeks back, how this team also lost passion with the graduation of Galloway. He stuck to X's and O's, while lauding his players as people.

"I just in hindsight didn't put this team together properly at all," Giannini said. "But some of the decisions that I made that helped us last year hurt us this year. Again, that's in hindsight."

The only specific Giannini was willing to offer was the need for another shooter.

"To have an impact at this level, the guy has to come in and be good from the get-go," Giannini said. "Those guys aren't just growing on trees."

Garland moved into the starting lineup, replacing Galloway.

"There's no way we achieve what we did last year without Tyrone," Giannini said. "He was just an explosive player off the bench that other people just didn't have and he was a difference-maker.

"This year, his role was dramatically different and the results were dramatically different. If anything, that's my fault for not anticipating that. Certainly he's the same person and the same player."

This time La Salle didn't have that explosive sixth man - there was no replacement for Garland in that role - in addition to missing the extra shooter who could free up room for Garland to maneuver. They also missed Galloway's defense. Senior Sam Mills was the stopper, but one plug isn't enough. On Thursday, the Bonnies found their way inside to do damage.

As for Duren, Giannini said he had done "absolutely every single thing" he had been expected to do.

His greatest impact?

"I'll say it again," Giannini said. "He did every single thing we expected him to do. He was a great player on a great team last year and on good teams in other years.

"He passed, he scored, he gave us poise," Giannini said. "It was hard to take him off the court."

Calling someone "a great player on a great team" is high praise.

It just didn't happen to be this year's team.


mjensen@phillynews.com

@jensenoffcampus

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