Penn State vs. La Salle Preview
After a big 83-71 road win over the Penn Quakers at the Palestra on Saturday, Pat Chambers and the Nittany Lions return home, looking to improve to 3-1, against the La Salle Explorers.
Last year, after a 24-10 regular season record (11-5 in the Atlantic Ten), La Salle and head coach Dr. John Giannini received an at-large bid and a 13-seed in the NCAA Tournament. Following an 80-71 win over fellow 13-seed Boise State in the first round, the Explorers upset 4-seed Kansas State 63-61, and beat the Marshall Henderson led Ole Miss Rebels 76-74, to earn a berth in the Sweet 16. Although La Salle lost to the Final Four bound Wichita State Shockers in the Sweet Sixteen, their tournament run was very impressive and certainly showcased the team’s talent.
While La Salle is returning most of their starters, the loss of senior guard and leading scorer Ramon Galloway will be tough to overcome. The Philadelphia native averaged 17.2 ppg, 3.7 assists, 4.6 rebounds per game, and shot 41% from three-point range during his senior campaign, in which he played 33.3 minutes per game. While Galloway and his scoring were a big part of La Salle’s identity last season, he and fellow senior Gavin Hunt, are the only departures from last year’s Sweet 16 squad.
The leader of this year’s Explorers team is senior point guard Tyreek Duren. Another Philadelphia native, Duren averaged 14.3 ppg and 3.3 assists per game during his junior season. Duren has started 74 straight games and so far this season has seen an expanded role as the team leader for the Explorers. A preseason first team all-Atlantic 10 selection, Duren is an excellent passer and floor general, and should be the key to another tournament appearance for La Salle this season.
Complementing Duren in the Explorer backcourt are senior guards Sam Mills and Tyrone Garland. Mills, from Sunrise, Florida, owns a 40.6% career shooting percentage from three and thrives in catch and shoot situations. While Mills is mainly a shooter, Garland is capable of scoring in several different ways. As the Explorers’ sixth man last season, he averaged 13 ppg, 2.1 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. Garland received national attention in the 2012-2013 NCAA Tournament after his game-winning, “Southwest Philly Floater” with two seconds left against Ole Miss in the round of 32. In addition to the Ole Miss game, Garland was explosive in the rest of the tournament averaging 13,5 ppg, including a 22 point outing shooting 9-11 from the field in the matchup against Boise State. Garland was a preseason 3rd team all-Atlantic Ten selection, and has been a main scoring option on the team up to this point in the young season.
In addition to the backcourt trio, standout forward Jerell Wright should be an impact player for La Salle this season and against the Nittany Lions on Tuesday. Wright, a junior Philadelphia native averaged 10.8 ppg and 6.7 rebounds per game for the Explorers last season. A very talented low post scorer, Wright had a very strong NCAA Tournament, averaging 14.5 ppg, and 5.8 rebounds per game, including a breakout 21-point performance in the upset against Kansas State. With the opportunity to exploit some holes in the Penn State post defense, look for Wright to have a big game against the Nittany Lions.
Rounding out the starting five for the Explorers is junior 6-11 center Steve Zack. A very capable rebounder and defender, Zack averaged 6.4 ppg, 6.4 rebounds, and 1.3 blocks per game for La Salle last season. While he missed the tournament run with a foot injury, Zack is once again healthy and presents quite a mismatch for Penn State on the boards due to his size.
Last season, the two teams battled at the Palestra in Philadelphia with La Salle coming away with a lopsided 82-57 victory. Duren had a big day for the Explorers scoring 29 points while shooting 9-13 from the field.
For La Salle, a win against Penn State would be their third in a row. Following a double- overtime loss to Manhattan to start the season, the Explorers reeled off wins against Quinnipiac and Siena to improve to 2-1. The Quinnipiac victory in particular is very telling of the mismatch that La Salle presents for Penn State. Although Quinnipiac led the nation in rebounds per game last year and had not been matched in rebounds for 33 games, the Explorers managed to pull down 43 boards, matching their opponent. These numbers are quite impressive considering the circumstances and it is tough to imagine a scenario where Penn State manages to outrebound La Salle.
As with most Penn State games, the play of Tim Frazier is the focus, and his matchup with Tyreek Duren looks to be a good one. Both exemplary senior point guards, the two should go at each other all game. If Frazier can have a good day and get some help from D.J. Newbill and Brandon Taylor, the Nittany Lions could get the win at home. However, with that being said, Jerell Wright will be a tough cover down low, and the smaller Penn State frontcourt will struggle to grab rebounds over him and Steve Zack.
As a squad who was able to make a run to the Sweet 16, La Salle is out to prove that last season was not a fluke and that they deserve to be dancing in March once again.
ComRadio’s coverage of the game begins at 6:30 p.m. with the ComRadio Men’s Basketball Pregame Show. Tipoff is scheduled at the Bryce Jordan Center for 7:00 p.m.
Uriah Tagle is a junior majoring in communication arts and sciences, and economics. To contact him, email email@example.com.
Photo Credit: (AP Photo/Centre Daily Times, Abby Drey)