La Salle senior guard Ruben Guillandeaux has returned to the starting lineup after a stress fracture in his right foot that limited his 2009-10 season to four games, but maybe the most pressure being felt by any Explorer is on freshman point guard Tyreek Duren. All Duren, a former star at Neumann-Goretti, is being asked to do is take over for 4-year starter Rodney Green, one of La Salle’s finest players ever and the star of the injury-depleted team that went 12-18 last season. Green is now playing in the Israeli Premier League.
At 6-foot, Duren isn’t as tall as the 6-5 Green, so he doesn’t present the same matchup nightmare for opposing defenders. His decision-making in his introduction to the college game at times has been spotty, as his assist-to-turnover ratio (51-31) might suggest. But Duren can take the ball downcourt in a hurry and he has a knack for finding the open shooter, which has had the effect of making the Explorers (6-4) a tough assignment for even nationally ranked opponents. Just ask No. 12 Villanova, which escaped Tom Gola Arena with an 84-81 victory on Sunday. La Salle led that one, 74-66, with 5 minutes, 23 seconds remaining.
La Salle’s four losses have come to teams with a combined record of 32-3, three of which are currently ranked among the nation’s top 13. That gauntlet might appear to take a less dangerous turn as coach John Giannini’s team takes on Bucknell (4-6) tonight in Gola Arena, but Dr. Giannini is aware that the outcome of any game is never as safe as it might appear on paper. The good doctor has described La Salle’s 65-61 escape against Delaware State on Nov. 29 as one of the most gratifying of his seven seasons at 20th and Olney because his team showed grit down the stretch of a game that could have gone either way.
Duren already has been named the Atlantic 10 Conference’s Rookie of the Week twice, and tonight he’ll be matching moves with another onetime Philadelphia prep standout, Bucknell freshman guard Cameron Ayers, the Germantown Academy product who is the Patriot League’s Rookie of the Week.
Sophomore center Aaric Murray has 99 career blocks, 29 this season, and if he rejects a shot against the Bison, he’ll reach 100 swats faster than any player in La Salle history. Murray has played in 40 games for the Explorers; All-America Lionel Simmons holds the school record by reaching 100 blocked shots in 50 games. Murray also has raised his free-throw percentage from last season’s .650 to .846.
-- Bernard Fernandez