That will be all, Butler: La Salle stuns No. 9 Bulldogs
La Salle was looking for its signature win of the Giannini Era.
Entertaining the ninth-ranked Butler Bulldogs, the highest-ranked team to ever play in Gola Arena, the Explorers had their John Hancock on this game. Just waiting for the ink to dry.
When Ramon Galloway drove to the basket with 2.7 seconds left, the win was signed, sealed and delivered. By a 54-53 score, big-time basketball had returned to 20th and Olney.
But coach John Giannini was having none of it. To him, it was a tough win over a tough and well-respected program. No signature needed.
"We have to feel tremendous about getting a hard-fought victory against a team like that," Giannini said. "That being said, I'm not overly surprised. In fact, I'm not surprised at all. I think our players are good. We talk about having high expectations and when we don't meet those we're frustrated, especially against good teams. It's certainly special beating a team and a program like Butler."
It was Giannini's first win over a Top 10 team in his eight years at La Salle and the program's first win over a ranked team since March 30, 2001, when the Explorers upset then-No. 18 Saint Joseph's, 91-90. And it's the program's first win over a Top 10 team since beating No. 8 Notre Dame, 62-60, on Jan. 30, 1980.
"Not only did we get a win today, we got better," Giannini said. "They force you to get better. If we could scrimmage them every day, we'd be a Final Four team ourselves someday."
For Giannini, it was a step in the right direction.
"We've become a good Atlantic 10 program," he said. "We're one of the better teams in one of the better conferences in the country. But we win in the Atlantic 10 and we've been doing it consistently.
"La Salle has one of the great traditions in the history of college basketball, but they have not won in the Atlantic 10 in 12 years and now we win in the Atlantic 10 on a consistent basis."
After a first half in which the Explorers seemed a little out of sync trying to figure out the Butler defense, they came out in the second half with a purpose. And it was time for Butler to try to adjust to La Salle's defense, which was stifling in the second half.
Tyreek Duren, who was 3-for-7 in the first half, found his rhythm after the break. He got to his spots and set up his teammates; Butler couldn't find an answer. Duren scored nine of his 16 points in the second half, none bigger than his driving layup with 9:47 left that gave the Explorers the lead after being down 10 in the first half.
"We just toughened up our defense," Duren said. "In the first half, we came back fighting. Nobody got a really big lead. We knew it was going to be that way. We knew we weren't going to blow them out, that we had to gut it out."
La Salle maintained the lead, which was never more than three, until Butler's Alex Smith scored underneath with 46.4 seconds left. But Sam Mills answered right back with a floater in the lane.
After Roosevelt Jones, the hero from Butler's win over Gonzaga on Saturday, missed a layup, Mills had a shot to give the Explorers (13-5, 3-2 A-10) some breathing room. But he missed the front end of a one-and-one.
Like the ranked team that it is, Butler (16-3, 3-1) never wavered. The Bulldogs called a timeout and on the inbounds play, Jones hit Smith underneath to put the Bulldogs back up, 53-52.
With no timeouts, Galloway took the inbounds pass, streaked down the court and scored the game-winner.
"With no timeouts, you have to have someone do something special and Ramon did," said the coach.
The winning basket put a good end to a bad day for Galloway, who, as Giannini put it, is going through some personal issues involving his mother and was not in the starting lineup. He was just 3-for-10 from the field, but that third field goal was huge.
"I really wanted my mom to be there," said an openly sobbing Galloway. "I wanted to do it for my mom and my dad. I really wanted my mom to be there."
Said Giannini: "He's not only a great person and a great player, but he's a great son and great family member. He's been dealing with certain things. He cares about people so much and some of those situations have taken away from his normal routine. It's not surprising that they would.
"I really admired how he stepped up in the face of adversity. He's going through a tough stretch and I admire him more than ever how he responded."