La Salle can’t erase its first 10 games. The Explorers lost each one.
So although three wins in their last four games had the Explorers seeing a distant light in the darkness, the truth is that they are still overmatched in most games.
That’s one of the costs of having to go through growing pains during a rebuild.
When the opposition is a veteran team with enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament, things can get out of hand.
St. Louis was picked as the preseason favorite to win the Atlantic 10 Conference. The Billikens start three seniors and three All-Atlantic 10 preseason team members.
This had blowout written all over it and, perhaps, if the Explorers weren’t learning and maturing during those 0-for-struggles, it would have been.
This, however, isn’t the same team – and it hasn’t been since getting smashed by Penn on Dec. 8.
Now, it’s becoming clear that the system that first-year coach Ashley Howard implemented is becoming second nature. The Explorers are getting it and playing better.
No, La Salle did not upset the Billikens. They lost, 71-64, but there were more signs of progress.
La Salle trailed St. Louis, 64-63, with just under 2 ½ minutes remaining and had possession of the ball.
The Explorers (3-12, 1-2 A-10) committed a turnover and then the Billikens (12-4, 3-0) closed out with 7-1 run to post their fourth straight win.
Senior Jevon Best scored five of his 11 in the final minutes.
“That’s what happens when you play a veteran team that has been through this before,” Howard said. “St. Louis has been there before and played like it.
“We’re a team that is just scratching the surface of how good we can be and we played like it. We’re scratching. We’re almost right there, but we haven’t gotten there yet.
“The guys are playing with a lot effort so I’m proud of that. I think we’re getting better. It’s always disappointing to lose but a lot of teachable moments that we can use from this game.”
The Explorers got a game-high 14 points each from junior Isiah Deas and freshman Jack Clark. Graduate student Pookie Powell had 12 points and three assists.
La Salle was without sophomore center Miles Brookins, who was injured in the previous game against Virginia Commonwealth.
St. Louis graduate student transfer Tramaine Isabell, Jr., who played last season at Drexel, scored eight points.