La Salle bounces back with big win over Fordham

Was that . . . attitude?

Swagger?

Or maybe just ownership?

La Salle forward Devon White dropped in a fadeaway layup and absorbed a foul from Fordham guard Raynor Moquete. White finished the play on his left foot, hopped backward a couple of times and held the follow-through.

That gave the Explorers a 24-point lead over visiting Fordham with 50 seconds left . . . in the first half. They won, 86-61. They held Fordham to 28.7 percent shooting, the second sub-30 game for a La Salle opponent.

Yes, this La Salle opponent was a hapless group of bottom dwellers. Only Charlie Sheen is on a worse losing streak than Fordham, now winless in 41 straight Atlantic 10 games.

Still, Fordham, featuring sophomore terror Chris Gaston, played A-10 power Xavier to a standstill last month, beat St. John's in December and had nothing to lose. La Salle coach John Giannini was "scared to death" by Fordham's fire.

Sophomore center Aaric Murray scored 20 points on 8-for-16 shooting, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked three shots, part of a balanced and competent effort.

This couldn't be the same team that lost by 38 to Xavier just 8 days prior. Could it?

No. This team differed. Because this team defended. Because this team was humiliated by that 38-point loss in Ohio.

Junior guard Earl Pettis had seen enough and called a team meeting.

"After we just got embarrassed, it's like, 'We can't continue this,' " said guard Ruben Guillandeaux. "We've got family and we've got friends who watch us."

"Coach G always gives us good game plans. We just couldn't get the stops," Pettis said.

"Defensively, we've been very inconsistent with our effort, our focus and attention to detail."

Giannini was less kind. Despite the last two games, La Salle remains the worst defensive team in the A-10, a hole dug deep by indifference.

"There was no commitment and no focus," he said. "When you're the worst in your league, and you have good players . . . it's a lack of commitment. They called each other out. They basically took ownership of their team."

The play in question, where White strutted his stuff, completed a fast break begun at the defensive end. The Rams' 12th turnover of the game led to the 20-4 portion of a 22-5 run that helped La Salle cruise.

The scoring was less remarkable than the stinginess. The Explorers held Fordham to 20.9 percent shooting in the first half. This, after shutting down UMass on Sunday, allowing less-than-30 percent shooting in a 21-point win - their best defensive display in 5 years.

Until last night.

The UMass performance, perhaps, carries more weight.

The Rams now have dropped 15 straight games, all in the Atlantic 10, their second straight winless A-10 season. La Salle defended, yes, but Fordham rebounded manically - 21 offensive boards in the first half, 30 for the game - but Fordham played tight, missing layups, dunks, open jumpers and unmolested three-pointers. They are 6-21 overall.

LaSalle is now 14-16 and 6-9 in the Atlantic 10. An upset of Temple on Saturday and two wins in the conference tournament next week would make for a .500 season. Temple narrowly beat them a month ago.

The second half disintegrated into a more typical La Salle brand of ball, sloppier, looser, less focused. Gaston, sixth in the nation at 11 rebounds a game, put on a display: 19 points, 17 rebounds, immeasurable desire. He sat with just under 6 minutes to play.

It was over long before that. Really, it began after the Explorers' loss at Xavier.

There, finally, they implemented what Giannini had preached about, had begged for, had dreamt of all season.

Said Guillandeaux, "You see the results."