This appeared to be a perfect trap game for La Salle, a non-league game in between Atlantic-10 clashes.
True, it was a Big 5 game, but on the scope of things, the Explorers were coming off two monumental A-10 wins over Xavier and Massachusetts, but they had the same commitment against Penn and it showed.
The most impressive aspect of the Explorers 68-57 win was another strong defensive effort.
La Salle held Penn to 19 for 56 shooting (33.9 percent). Penn guard Zack Rosen entered the game averaging 19.4 points, but scored just eight, none in the second half.
So even with the wins over Xavier and UMASS in review mirror and a killer road schedule the next two games at Dayton and Temple, La Salle had enough focus to defeat a solid Penn team that is 7-9 and has played ambitious schedule in preparing for Ivy League competition.
In fact Rosen and teammate Tyler Bernardini, Penn’s two leading scorers, shot a combined 6 for 23.
“We come in each game trying to hold the top scorers under their average and when we do, we have success,” said La Salle guard Tyreek Duren, who had a game-high 21 points.
After a 15-18 season, La Salle has certainly been a surprise at 13-4 overall and 2-0 in the Atlantic-10.
“What sets us aside is that they really want to win and understand the importance of defense,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “They are very unselfish with the ball.”
And unselfish team that plays defense will win a lot of games as long as the shots are going in.
“Coach Giannini has done an excellent job getting the guys to play solid basketball,” Penn coach Jerome Allen said.
Most of all, he has them realizing the importance of every game, whether it’s in the Atlantic-10, the Big 5 or any other setting.
La Salle has 14 remaining regular season games, all against Atlantic-10 opponents. The Explorers will take each one just as seriously, clearly intent on continuing what has been one of the more improved teams in all of college basketball.