For La Salle, it was a familiar story. A 21-point second half lead had evaporated to just five, forcing coach John Giannini to call a timeout. It couldn't be happening again, could it?
In La Salle's last three games, the Explorers had given away big leads to VCU and UMass and a six-point lead with less than a minute left in triple overtime against Duquesne. But Wednesday night was different for the Explorers, as they had just enough to squeak out a 75-67 win over the Fordham Rams to snap a four-game losing streak.
"Incredible relief, just great relief," Giannini said of finally winning.
The win was the 500th of Giannini's career.
The La Salle lead was built through its dismantling of Fordham's 2-3 zone in the first half. Giannini rotated both B.J. Johnson and senior guard Amar Stukes at the high post, and they facilitated open shots for their teammates. La Salle (8-11, 2-4 Atlantic Ten) shot 58 percent from deep in the first 20 minutes, forcing coach Jeff Neubauer to abandon the zone in the second half for the Rams (6-12, 1-5).
Neubauer's man-to-man attack stifled any offensive rhythm the Explorers built in the first half. La Salle's attack slowed down just as Fordham's sped up, leading to a 16-1 Rams run that put them right back in it. Most of the damage was done in transition.
"Are we fatigued? Maybe that's a part of it," Giannini said. "Are other teams down and playing with a little more reckless aggressiveness? Probably a combination. When you're down 20, you get recklessly aggressive."
"We shot a lot of tough shots," Johnson said of the second half. "I think we could have moved the ball a little bit better, gotten better looks."
La Salle's only proficiency on offense came from big man Tony Washington. He had 12 of his 14 points in the second half, almost single-handedly carrying the team when tensions were high.
Johnson made his return from injury with 11 points on 4-for-10 shooting, but Giannini maintained he was "not close to his normal self." He had missed four out of the last five games with an ankle injury.