Spurred by a gazelle-like pace and brilliant performances from their star players, the La Salle Explorers have made their way to the round of 64.
The Explorers defeated the Boise State Broncos 80-71 on Wednesday in Dayton to capture the No. 13 seed in the West Region, where they will take on Kansas State Friday.
Guard Tyrone Garland led the way for La Salle with 22 points off the bench. Garland had excelled for the Explorers in the Atlantic 10 tournament and continued his hot streak by making nine of his 11 shots. Explorers star Ramon Galloway also chipped in 21 points, while Boise State's Anthony Drmic led all scorers with 28.
Expected to be a high-scoring affair, both sides kept up with their reputation. La Salle shot 63.3 percent from the field and Boise State made just under half its shots, as both sides were hitting buckets almost from the opening minute.
Both storming out of the gate showing flashes of offensive efficiency, the Explorers and Broncos played within one possession for much of the opening minutes. Much of that had to do with brilliant shooting performances by Boise State's Ryan Watkins and his counterpart Sam Mills.
Watkins opened the contest making each of the Broncos' first three buckets, getting assists by Igor Hadziomerovic on two of the attempts. Almost immediately, Mills answered Watkins with a made basket himself. The Explorers guard nailed three shots from long range, giving La Salle an early lead and helping spark the first elongated run of the game.
Starting with Mills' third first-half three-pointer, La Salle went on a 12-1 run to take a 25-12 lead. Galloway scored five points and dished out one assist during that run, playing hand in hand with his backcourt-mate.
For nearly the entire first half, that run told the entire story. The Explorers kept their distance for the most part, never allowing Boise State to get any closer than eight points. When Galloway went in for an emphatic slam that gave La Salle a 31-17 lead with 5:24 remaining, Broncos coach Leon Rice needed a timeout.
Rice's timeout seemingly had the desired effect, as Boise State put the clamps down on defense for the remaining five-plus minutes. The Broncos still could not get in an offensive rhythm as a team, with Drmic essentially taking over the one-man show, but still managed to go on a 10-4 run to end the half down 35-27.
After what was a relatively low-scoring half for these two sides, you knew the points were coming in the final 20 minutes—and they did in droves.
Plunging their way forth at a break-neck offensive pace, Boise State and La Salle both got on the board early and often in the opening minutes. Jerrell Wright made three buckets within a two-minute span, and Drmic made the first two of what would be many second-half jumpers early on.
What was important—at least from La Salle's point of view—was that it was keeping pace. The Explorers withstood the early run and went into the first TV timeout of the second half still ahead by eight, 46-38.
Mirroring the first half's result, those opening four minutes were an indicator of the remaining 16. Boise State kept battling, but could never get within actual striking distance. Drmic and Derrick Marks essentially played a two-man offensive game, trading buckets en route to combining for a lion's share of the Broncos' second-half points.
But just when Boise State thought it was on the precipice of a comeback, Galloway, Garland or someone else would strike and crash the team's dreams. With just 48 hours to prepare, Kansas State was certainly tuning into this contest and is now on full notice heading into Friday's matchup.
Playing for the first time on the national stage for most, La Salle's style of play had plenty of fans on Wednesday. One of them, putting his thoughts in the most succinct fashion possible, was CBS Sports Tom Fornelli:
This LaSalle squad is kinda fun.— Tom Fornelli (@TomFornelli) March 21, 2013
La Salle's quickness advantage over lethargic Boise is making Bronco offense a grind.— Andy Glockner (@AndyGlockner) March 21, 2013
On the other hand, CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman says the Broncos should not be discouraged by their loss—there is still plenty good coming in the future:
This Boise State team is a year ahead of schedule. Still young.— Jeff Goodman (@GoodmanCBS) March 21, 2013
Former Kentucky great and Turner Sports analyst Rex Chapman was especially impressed with Anthony Drmic:
That being said, Wednesday was about the Explorers. And for those of you still looking for an upset special in your bracket, CBS Sports' Jeff Borzello is riding the hot hand:
And La Salle advances to take on No. 4 Kansas State on Friday. I've got the Explorers.— Jeff Borzello (@jeffborzello) March 21, 2013
While there is still work left to be done and possible upsets to be made, La Salle can rest well on Wednesday knowing its 20-plus year NCAA tournament win drought is over.
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