La Salle trying to put end to funk, add to NCAA Tournament resume

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La Salle (14-12, 8-7) still owns the second-best record in the Big 5 this season, but things have been anything but celebratory recently for the Explorers with March just around the corner.

The Explorers had gained a lot of momentum to start the season, going 11-5 and looking like a team destined for the NCAA Tournament. They’ve gone 3-7 since.

With only three games remaining in the regular season, La Salle can only hope for a high seeding in the A-10 Tournament to give themselves a chance to punch their ticket into the big dance. That can only happen if the team can stay healthy.

“When we’re healthy, we’re good, and we’re not as good when we’re not healthy, like most teams,” Explorers coach John Giannini said. “You can theorize: Is it offense or is it defense, is it confidence? No. … [Having injuries] affects us. You’d like to say ‘next man up,’ but that’s not easy for a lot of teams, for the majority of teams.”

Junior B.J. Johnson (17.7 points, 6.2 rebounds), a Syracuse transfer, and sophomore Pookie Powell (13.2 points, 4.4 rebounds, 3.4 assists) have both missed time for the Explorers in their recent funk. Now back to full strength, the team hopes to return to its early-season form.

Rhode Island’s (18-9,10-5) stifling defense got the better of the Explorers Tuesday night in a 67-56 loss, but coach Giannini thinks it was the type of team La Salle needed to play at this point in the season to prepare them down the stretch.

“I feel good. I feel like this game will make us better,” Giannini said. “I mean when you play against a team like [Rhode Island], believe it or not, it makes you better.”

The Explorers will head to UMass to face the Minutemen (13-14, 3-11) on Sunday before finishing the season at St. Louis (9-18, 4-10) and home against Fordham (12-15, 6-8) next week. Now sixth place in the A-10 standings, La Salle could finish the season in third place in the A-10 depending on how things shake out.

“We’re very concerned about our seeding,” Giannini said. “You look at the standings and what you have to do in the next game. And after that, you do the process over again.”

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