It has taken La Salle fans a little longer than most had wanted but after today's 75-72 win over Duquesne the young Explorers may have finally "gotten it". What exactly does that mean? After suffering 10 out of 13 defeats by less than 10 points this season La Salle could never close out games and win the close ones. As 8 out of 11 scholarship players in either the sophomore or freshman class have matured La Salle has won its last three games by a total of 7 points. Yes the Young Explorers seem to have arrived in a big way. Those three wins have come against teams with a combined record of 50-27.
While the young guns have arrived the two veterans in the program, Darnell Harris and Paul Johnson, have provided the sorely needed leadership craved by the program since the departure of Steven Smith and Jermaine Thomas. Riding Harris' 18 points the Explorers flustered Duquesne with a smothering zone defense that was a far cry from the La Salle defense the Dukes shredded just two weeks ago. Harris has been nothing short of sensational the past three games The recently named Atlantic 10 Co-Player of the week has averaged 21.7 points per game over the last three games while shooting 50% from the floor and just under 50% from three point range. But more importantly Harris has made the big shots when his team needed them and that has made all the difference in the world and taken all of the pressure off of his younger teammates. Add that to the lunch pail mentality that Paul Johnson has brought to the floor and you can see why La Salle has made tremendous strides on the court. All Johnson has done all season is doing all the dirty work no one else has wanted. Against St. Joseph's Johnson had five assists to zero turnovers and against Dayton he recorded a double-double getting 11 points and grabbing 11 rebounds against the Flyers. It was sweet reward that Johnson grabbed the rebound that was the Dukes last gasp at victory today as their final shot at the buzzer fell harmlessly into the arms of a waiting Paul Johnson. As much as the younger Explorers have arrived it may be more important that La Salle upperclassmen has arrived and taken the leadership of this program.
I would be remiss if I failed to mention the contributions of another upperclassman, Sherman Diaz. Diaz, who hit the game tying three-pointer in regulation against Dayton, continued his fine play as he scored 6 points, dished 2 assists, and 2 block shots in the Duquesne victory. While La Salle has gotten contributions from just about every player during this four game stretch, perhaps the biggest contributor other than Johnson and Harris has been 6"5 sophomore Ruben Guillandeaux. Starting with a torrid game 6 for 7 and 16 points against St. Joseph's Guillandeaux has shot 15 for 26 over the three game stretch and has given La Salle another perimeter threat which as opened the floor for La Salle's frontcourt and has given them the needed space to thrive against bigger opponents.
After a heartbreaking triple overtime loss to Richmond that left La Salle at 4-9 on the season in early January, the Explorers have turned their season around completely, going 9-4 over their last 13 games and stand on the cusp of being the team no one wants to play come Atlantic 10 tournament time. While much work remains to be done it is now fun work for a program that has become one of the biggest surprises in the city of Philadelphia and the Atlantic 10 conference.
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