La Salle’s dancing shoes still fit

phl_lasalle2_6c_18 The Explorers are back in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992.
Rikard Larma/Metro

La Salle had already waited 21 years. So what was another 45 minutes?

In a tense room Sunday night, one filled with players and coaches, the Explorers watched Villanova and Temple (and every other team in the country) learn their fate in the NCAA tournament.

Finally, La Salle saw its name in the field of 68 and the players erupted with a massive celebration. For the first time since 1992, the Explorers are headed to the Big Dance.

La Salle (21-9) will play No. 13 seed Boise St. (21-10) Wednesday (9:10 p.m.) in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will face No. 4 Kansas State in the West Region.
Since losing to Butler in the quarterfinals of the Atlantic 10 tournament, La Salle was forced to play the waiting game. This time, the wait was worth it. The Explorers are in.

“It was so hard waiting that I almost wanted to walk out of the room,” said guard Tyreek Duren. “I kind of had a headache because it was hard to watch and not knowing. Then, when you see your name called, it’s incredible. I’m so emotional right now that I almost don’t know what to say.”

John Giannini was hired in 2004 as the 18th head coach in the program’s history. It took a while to climb this hurdle, but it was satisfying.

“It’s a big step for your program to be in this very special event,” Giannini said. “They made us wait [and] they made us sweat a little bit, but it was obviously worth it.”

For Tyrone Garland, the whole evening was surreal. He began his career at Virginia Tech, but decided to transfer to La Salle in his hometown. Working his way into the rotation and being part of a team headed for the NCAAs made him virtually speechless.

“I’m almost at a loss for words, but I know I’m very, very excited because we’ve worked for this and we’ve earned this,” said Garland, who scored 2,198 points in the Public League, third most behind Maureece Rice and Wilt Chamberlain. “This is a proud day for me, for La Salle, for Philadelphia. It’s time to go to work and show that we do belong with the best. I can’t wait for this. It’s been a long time coming.”

Twenty-one years and change, to be exact.

“Let’s go!” said guard Ramon Galloway. “Time to get down to business. It’s our time. Let’s do it.”

What to know
» La Salle (21-9) will play No. 13 Boise State (21-10) Wednesday night at 9:10 p.m. in Dayton, Ohio. The winner will face No. 4 Kansas State in the West Region.

» Boise St. is headed to the NCAA tournament for sixth time in its history. The last time was 2008 (lost to Louisville, 79-61).

» This is the 12th career NCAA appearance for La Salle. The Explorers lost to Seton Hall, 78-76, in the first round of the 1992 NCAA tournament.

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