The La Salle Explorers improved to 12-4 on the season with a win over the Massachusetts Minutemen on Sunday. This high-paced, back-and-forth game seemed to be all Explorers, as they went into halftime with a 51-25 lead.
But UMass didn't quit, cutting the once whopping lead down to five in the second half. They even went on a 24-6 run at one point, which really fueled the Minutemen fans that traveled to see their squad play their first road game in just over a month.
The Explorers were led by Ramon Galloway and Earl Pettis, who accounted for a combined 37 points. No matter how close the score got, Galloway and Pettis made sure they put the team on their backs and turned to their defense to ensure the 82-75 Explorer victory.
"Once we kind of figured out that our shots weren't falling in the zone," Galloway said, "we knew that we would win the game if we would get stops and stop them from scoring."
With a decent crowd on hand at Tom Gola Arena, it seemed at times things were going to get a little testy. For the most part, the refs let both teams play very physical, which made the crowd irate at points and they let the refs hear it.
In the second half, Galloway was hustling after a loose ball when the referee inadvertently knocked him hard to the ground. Galloway was slow to get up for a split second, causing hearts to drop for La Salle fans. He would prove to be just fine and toughed out the rest of the game.
The star for UMass was Chaz Williams. At 5'9", Williams caused problems for the Explorers all day both offensively and defensively, as he would lead the Minutemen in scoring with 24 points.
Other key contributors to this big Atlantic 10 win for La Salle were Sam Mills and Tyreek Duren. Mills added some clutch three-pointers and finished the night with 11 points. Duren handled the ball nicely, dishing it off eight times while racking up 12 points of his own.
Signs of stardom occurred out of the powerful play by 6'8" freshman Jerrell Wright, who led the team with 12 rebounds. UMass was a gigantic team with three starters all over 6'8", so the forceful play by Wright gave the Explorers an edge. He out-hustled and out-powered UMass' big men. If Wright can keep this dominant play up down the stretch, teams will have a tough time defending him.
La Salle is now 2-0 in Atlantic 10 play, and only Dayton and Charlotte join them with that record. After beating the Atlantic 10 preseason favorite Xavier at home and finishing strong against UMass, La Salle feels good heading into a crucial Big 5 game against Penn.
“We're 0-1 in the Big 5 and we emphasize the Big 5 tremendously. Penn’s beaten Robert Morris, Penn’s beaten Delaware, those are two teams that beat us…we need a Big 5 win desperately and it’s going to be pretty tough,” head coach John Giannini said.
If La Salle can continue the consistent, hard-nose basketball they have been playing this season, they should be tough for anyone to beat. With a couple more key wins, they could also crack the Top 25 and are already gaining national attention.
"La Salle coach John Giannini said at A-10 media day in October that he really thought his team could be one of his best, even though he was starting over. At 11-4, he may be right," said Andy Katz of ESPN.com.
Eddie Ravert is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained first-hand.