From The Vault ...

(Rick Pitino's first NCAA Tournament Game)


(Philadelphia Daily News, March 16, 1983)


Sports Columnist

They all said La Salle would go South at NCAA tournament time.

What they didn’t say was that coach Lefty Ervin would like it.

“I look at the teams we might be playing, and I think they’re beatable, Ervin said last night. “You don’t want to look too far ahead, but beyond that you see the superpowers. But they’re beatable, too.”

Last night La Salle found Boston U. eminently beatable, to the tune of 70-58 in the NCAA tournament qualifier at the Palestra, and started packing for tomorrow’s East Regional date with Virginia Commonwealth in Greensboro.

La Salle did not exactly go into the land of the giants for this one. The Terriers were missing their only potent big man, Gary Plummer. “Some high school JV teams have more height than we had tonight,” BU coach Rick Pitino said.

But the Explorers were in no mood to throw it back. It was their first NCAA or NIT win since the 1955 national semifinals. “A long time,” Ervin said. In fact, he was 9 years old at the time.

On top of that, the Explorers showed they could win with Steve Black going 6-for-18 and with everyone teaming up for 19 turnovers against the pressing Terriers.

They reached halftime ahead, 33-28, and then Albert Butts and Ralph Lewis kicked off an inside spree that made it 40-30. BU had two field goals in the first 7 1/2 minutes of the half, both by Mike Alexander, who went 5-for-22 otherwise.

La Salle had five double-figure scorers and three double-figure rebounders, one of them 6-4 Chip Greenberg (12).

“Chip and I are really playing well together,” Black said. “We were wing players when all this started, but now he’s become, finally, a real outstanding point guard.”

They both have become, finally, healthy. If they had been that way all along, Ervin figures La Salle would be quite a bit better than 18-13, and not such an anonymous quality. He sounds very confident.

“I broke a superstition of mine today,” Ervin said. “I looked at some Virginia Commonwealth film. I had to, because I wouldn’t have the time later on.

“They’re a lot like us, developing into a good team. I think we can beat them. The game after that (against Georgia, the SEC tournament champion), I think we can win that one, too.

“Why? Because we’ve got some things going for us now. We’re playing excellent defense (BU shot 22-for-70). We’re rebounding well. Our perimeter game is excellent at times. And our ballhandling, because the guards are healthy and they know each other, is better than it’s been.”

La Salle has now won six in a row, a season high. Tom Piotrowski, the 7-foot senior of uncertain portfolio, was outstanding in the ECC tournament, got four of La Salle’s first five buckets last night. (“Every time we turned around to shoot,” Pitino said, “we saw mountains.”)

And Dave Kerins, coming off an uneventful year, came off the bench for a hook shot that made it 62-50 with 4:29 left, just when BU was thinking it still could win.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Ervin said. But in comparison with a lot of other scrawled La Salle portraits this year, it was Louvre material.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity,” Black said. “We lost that game to Temple at the Spectrum because we threw the ball away and missed foul shots. Now we think a lot more of the lead. We take care of it. And we take up the slack for each other.

“For instance, I kept missing shots tonight. But my teammates kept getting the rebounds and putting them back in.”

J.D. Barnett, who coached Virginia Commonwealth to a fast-finishing 23-6, was in attendance last night. He knows that Black is fully capable of scoring by himself. Black came into this game off scoring shows of 40, 17, 31, 24, 18 and 26 points. In Greensboro, he senses an opportunity for educating the public.

“We know not many people are looking at us, not many people know us,” Black said. “We know we’re the underdogs. But I think we do deserve a little credit.”

If you make the point that nobody in the NCAA tournament has more losses than the Explorers, Black’s counterpoint is this: “We’re the only team in the city that won its league outright this year.”

No argument there.

“And we’re one of two teams in the city that is going to a post-season national tournament,” he said.

But La Salle probably had the second-most talent in the Big 5 all along. At this point there is no time for such comparisons.

“There’s not much time to do anything,” Lefty Ervin said.

What does matter is that La Salle, on its way South, is the best team it’s been all season.