An hour after a convincing 85-72 win over visiting Charlotte, La Salle moved into sole possession of first place in the Atlantic 10 thanks to losses by Massachusetts and St. Bonaventure.
Just don’t expect head coach John Giannini to celebrate yet.
“It’s like being up at halftime against a really good team,” said the head coach. “We had a really good half, but now it’s winning time. Now it really counts. It’s not bad to be up at halftime, but it’s only halftime. Nothing is won at halftime.”
The Explorers (17-6 overall, 6-2 Atlantic 10) have never won a regular season A-10 title and haven’t won a conference regular season title since capturing the MAC in 1989. Both Xavier (6-3) and Temple (5-2) sit a half game behind La Salle and three other teams are a game back. The Explorers have eight games remaining, five of which come away from Tom Gola Arena.
“It means a lot, but the season’s only halfway done,” said sophomore guard Tyreek Duren. “Coach G keeps emphasizing that… He calls it the long stretch. Either you’re going to keep running fast or you’re going to slow up and everybody else is going to pass you.”
Up next. On Saturday at noon, the Explorers will face Big 5 rival St. Joseph’s on a neutral court at the Palestra. The Hawks have dropped four of their last six, but are coming off a nice 70-60 win at Richmond on Wednesday night.
A matchup to watch is La Salle freshman Jerrell Wright against Hawks sophomore C.J. Aiken. Aiken holds an inch advantage and is averaging 11.8 points and three blocks in his last five games. Wright poured in 18 points against Charlotte, his second highest total at La Salle, but grabbed just two boards.
“His defense is getting better and better,” said Duren of Wright. “I knew his offense was going to come, but the only thing I could really emphasize was his defense. Every game it seems like he steps up.”
Parting Shot. When discussing the play of Wright, the head coach had this to offer:
“He’s a big guy who wants to be a big guy,” said Giannini. “Frankly, if a big guy wants to come here and play like he’s 6-foot, instead of 6-8, we’re probably not really interested in that anymore. We want big guys who want to be big guys.”