What started out shaky could wind up with a massive celebration.
Following an early-season loss at home to Central Connecticut St., the La Salle Explorers didn’t seem headed for the NCAA tournament. It was just one loss, but it was the type of loss that hindered previous teams.
Not this one.
The Explorers won 21 games in the regular season and defeated ranked teams in consecutive games for the first time in 60 years. La Salle beat a top-10 team in Butler — the first time it registered a win over a top-10 team since 1980 — and then beat a ranked VCU team.
As the Explorers’ confidence soared, so did the mood on campus. Tom Gola Arena was packed with yellow-clad screaming students, something new for a program trying to get back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1992.
“We have mature guys like [Ramon Galloway], we have guys built in gradually,” said La Salle coach John Giannini. “We lost some games early this year that, like last year, we probably should have won. We feel that we can beat anyone and anyone can beat you, which is a healthy attitude.”
“We have not looked past anyone. You have guys realize that everyone has got good players. It’s one thing we talk about that you’ve got to bring it all the time. One of the things we talk about is to think like a coach, not a player and do it in a mature way.”
Once La Salle picked up those coveted wins over Butler and VCU, the NCAA talk began. It’s a topic embraced by Giannini.
“We want to make the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We do talk about it, but we talk far more about our upcoming opponent.”
Having senior leadership is always vital for a team trying to climb a hurdle it has been unable to leap. That senior is guard Ramon Galloway, who transferred to 20th and Olney from the University of South Carolina.
Galloway is their emotional leader and he’s hoping to see La Salle’s name in the field of 68. The Explorers take on Butler Friday (2:30 p.m. in Brooklyn) in the second round of the Atlantic 10 tournament. If they win the whole thing, La Salle is guaranteed a spot in the NCAAs. If not, they’ll wait to hear if their name is called Sunday night for an at-large bid.
“It’s having an edge, it’s having a will to compete and having something bigger than individual accomplishments,” Galloway said. “We have to work to put La Salle back to where it used to be.”