La Salle, Another Improving A-10 Program

La Salle, another improving Atlantic 10 Conference program, hosts Duquesne at 2 pm Saturday in the first of two games between the long time foes. The Explorers finished 10-20, 3-13 in league play last season. Coming off Wednesday's 80-58 win at GW, La Salle is 9-12, and tied with the Dukes with 4-4 A-10 marks. Dr. John Giannini fields a mostly young team.

La Salle's fourth-year head coach John Giannini has a senior who has played every game the coach has led for this Philadelphia Big 5 school.

Baltimore's St. Frances Academy alum Darnell Harris leads the team with 16.0 points per game. He is averaging 2.5 rebounds, 1.9 assists and 1.1 steals while shooting 50.6 percent from three-point range. He's the only Explorer playing over 30 minutes a contest (33.0).

The 6-foot-1 senior led LSU with 20 points in the GW win but was held to four points in the previous game, a 75-62 loss at Xavier.

Coach Giannini is also getting production from his young guys, who comprise 10 of the team's 13 eligible players.

La Salle has a roster ingredient that is familiar to Duquesne fans from the late 60s - tall twin basketball players, Jerrell and Terrell Williams from Paterson, N.J., and a prep program, Northfield Mount Hermon in Mass. (Barry and Garry Nelson were the Dukes' twins).

Jerrell, who leads with 7.1 rebounds per game, has been named A-10 Rookie of the Week three times, as has Duquesne's Damian Saunders. In fact, they shared the honor the last week of 2007.

His brother Terrell isn't seeing as much playing time, about half Jerrell's mpg.

Joining the senior (Harris) and freshman (Jerrell) on La Salle's starting squad for the conference schedule are junior Paul Johnson (6-6, 195) and sophomores Yves Mekongo Mbala (6-7, 210) and Rodney Green (6-5, 190) - two guards and three forwards. The Williamses, at 6-foot-8, 210 pounds, are La Salle's tallest players.

Mekongo Mbala, who is also from north Jersey -- Elizabeth -- and famed St. Patrick H.S., is averaging 6.6 rpg and 7.7 ppg.

Green, a Philly guy from Prep Charter who received multiple A-10 rookie citations last season, is second on the team with 12.8 ppg and leads with 3.0 apg. He also averages 5.0 rpg and 1.4 spg.

Johnson, who along with Green, Harris and Mekongo Mbala, has started every game this season and is averaging 6.4 ppg, 5.0 rpg, 1.3 apg and 1.1 spg.

Giannini has been using a nine-man rotation which includes freshman 6-foot-6 sophomore forward Kimmani Barrett (Paterson, N.J.), 6-foot-5 senior foward Sherman Diaz (Trinidad/Tobago and Life Center Academy in south Jersey), 6-foot-4 guard Darryl Partin (Seattle, Wash.) and 6-foot-5 sophomore guard Ruben Guillandeaux (Brooklyn, N.Y. and St. Patrick).

La Salle's losses to Florida State, No. 24 Ole Miss, DePaul, Charlotte and Saint Louis have been by an average of six points. Without a true point guard, La Salle is averaging 14.0 assists and 17.0 turnovers with a 0.8 assist/to ratio.

    Duquesne's numbers are 18.8 apg, 16.5 tos and a 1.1 a/to ratio. Coincidentally, Duquesne's 21 opponents have a 0.8 a/to ratio.

The Explorers have averaged 74.0 ppg and have held their foes to 72.2. They have outrebounded opponents by 5.6 rpg. LSU is averaging 6.8 steals and 2.8 blocks.

The Explorers have been averaging about 1,700 fans in the 4,00-seat Tom Gola Arena.

Kyle Griffin, a 6-foot-3 freshman guard whose mom played at Pitt, has been out of action since Jan. 19th when he suffered a subluxed patella on his left knee. Griffin was scheduled to be cleared for practice sometime this week.

Vernon Goodridge, a Philadelphia native from Lutheran Christian, transferred from Mississippi State last spring after his sophomore season. He'll be eligible next season and at 6-foot-9, 225 pounds, can fill in that absent center slot.

Duquesne is a 2½ point favorite going into this game. Two wins will guarantee Duquesne its first winning season since, well you all know... There are more games on the regular season card and the Dukes look assured to get their second trip to Atlantic City for the Conference shindig.

La Salle, which was in CollegeRPI.com's high 200s earlier this season, now has a mark of 190. The Dukes moved up to 92 following Wednesday's 102-88 victory over Saint Joseph's. The A-10 remains 7th in the nation with a .0064 edge over the Missouri Valley Conference.

Stat of the Day: The Explorers are 3-1 on the road in the Atlantic 10 but only 1-3 at Tom Gola Arena.