La Salle guard Pookie Powell understood the message from Ashley Howard after the former Villanova assistant took over on Olney Avenue. Powell had been a leader, so that wasn’t going to be new, just extended under his new coach.

“To be there for my teammates, not to think about myself,’’ Powell said was the basic thought.

The season is almost over. The message hasn’t changed. The Explorers will be in Brooklyn facing Rhode Island at noon Thursday in the Atlantic 10 tournament, the winner moving on to face top-seeded VCU on Friday. The Explorers will need to win four games this weekend to keep their season going.

“We just want to go out there and be the best team we can be, play hard, run our stuff, just get ready,’’ Powell said. “Anybody can be beat. Not like anyone is on a pedestal.”

La Salle has reason to come in believing anyone can be beaten. VCU earned that top seed. VCU also trailed La Salle by 18-5 early and by eight points at halftime before rallying to win as the Explorers’ shooting went cold.

That early score got noticed around the league, however. The Explorers team that had begun the season with 10 straight losses was no longer around. The Explorers split their last 20 games to finish the regular season 10-20, and 8-10 in the A-10, ninth in the 14-team league.

La Salle guard Pookie Powell driving on Fordham guard Antwon Portley.
La Salle guard Pookie Powell driving on Fordham guard Antwon Portley.

Powell is the first to say that the return of Saul Phiri was a big boost after he had sat out those 10 losses, that he helped with defense and leadership and just a sense of knowing what he was doing.

Powell, who averaged 15.4 points, had two stretches in which he sat out three games and then two games because of minor injuries. The Explorers were 1-4 without him. They simply need his production.

Games between La Salle and Rhode Island have typically been battles. The visitors came back from a halftime deficit to win this season at Tom Gola Arena.

“It’s kind of like a rivalry, always a tough battle,’’ Powell said of what it take to extend his career. “We’ve just got to out-tough them and outsmart them and do what we do.”