By Joseph Santoliquito
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (CBS) — March Madness is geared toward the unexpected. Those surprises. The upsets. The kind of magic that La Salle seems to be spinning right before our very eyes.
It looked like the Explorers would blow out No. 4 seed Kansas State, then just like that it looked as if La Salle would blow a huge first-half lead. But the Explorers found a way to win, 63-61, to advance to the round of 32 in the NCAA Tournament against No. 12 seed Mississippi on Sunday.
La Salle’s Jerrell Wright supplied the magic for the Explorers at the Sprint Center Friday afternoon. He finished with a game-high 21 points, including hitting three of four free throws in the last :30 of the game.
Wright was 6-for-6 from the floor and 9 of 10 on the line. Ramon Galloway closed with 19 points, while La Salle’s defense held Kansas State to 37-percent shooting in the first half (11 for 29).
“As good as we were in the first half, Kansas State was that good in the second half,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “We didn’t turn it over. We got some decent shots. Their big man blocked a lot of them. It was tough to get a good look, but at least we didn’t turn it over. The other thing that was huge was Jerrell Wright. He made some gigantic free throws.”
La Salle burst out to an early 6-0 lead and anything the Explorers wanted to do, they did. La Salle opened the lead to 28-13 on 11 of 20 shooting.
Kansas State didn’t reach double figures until about 10 minutes left in the half. K-State made a mere 37-percent from the floor and a horrid 12-percent from three-point range in the first half (1-for-8).
Then it was hang on time.
“Sometimes our quickness takes people by surprise, and we had just enough cushion to last,” Giannini said.
Wright was transcendent. He averaged 10.4 points a game this season and had that by halftime.
“There was a lot of pressure, but Jerrell’s poise and focus carried the day,” Giannini said. “We just kept challenging our guys defensively and kept saying that we’d be all right, and just get out defense back, we’d win this game.”
With 7:12 left in the game, Rodney McGruder’s layup gave K-State its first lead of the game, 57-56. The Wildcats converted 12 of their first 17 shots in the second half—a complete turnaround from the first half.
It was Wright that tied the game at 60-60 of a pair of free throws with 4:18 on the clock. Kansas State never scored a basket in the final 4:51.
Giannini refused to say this is gravy time, considering many didn’t think they would get this far.
“We’re not playing with house money,” Giannini said. “We’re playing to win every game. We wanted to be one of those teams do well. People want o be where we are right now, and I’m telling you, everyone is good.”
La Salle is showing the rest of the country that they are—and they are.
Rick Smith: My Tenure With The Texans Isn't OverHOUSTON (SPORTSRADIO 610) -- One day after announcing an extended leave of absence, Houston Texans executive vice president and GM Rick Smith said he plans to return, eventually. When? What will his role be? Will there be a replacement general manager in the meantime? That's all to be determined, Smith said.
"This is not a referendum on my tenure, because my tenure is not over," he said. "This is a comma, not a period."Smith, who was hired by the Texans back in 2006 to replace Charley Casserly, said in a statement that he'll be stepping aside to help support his wife, Tiffany, who's battling breast cancer. The news broke amid reports of a toxic relationship between Smith and head coach Bill O'Brien, who is entering the last year of his contract, and speculation that one or both would be fired.
"Bill and I have worked together for four years with a common goal: bring a championship to Houston. I don't really speak to those rumors. Bill has stood up here and told you, we've got a great working relationship. We continue to do that. That's another reason why this is a decision I can make. I can move away from here knowing the organization is in good hands."It's unclear how things will operate during Smith's absence. Smith called it a "fluid" situation, saying he's not sure when he'll be ready to return to the team or what the team will do in the meantime.
"There's a lot of dynamics to this job," Smith said. "There are a lot of responsibilities. So how we decide to fill all those roles -- that's not up to me, that's up to Mr. McNair, and how he decides to do that."If the Texans chose to hire another GM, Brian Gaine and Nick Caserio would figure to be at the top of the list of candidates. Gaine, who was hired last offseason to run the Buffalo Bills personnel department, was with the Texans from 2014 to 2016. Caserio has spent his entire career with the New England Patriots, who gave him the role of director of player personnel back in 2008, and is considered one of the best candidates on the market. Philosophically, O'Brien and Caserio would be a good fit. Smith described what it's been like for him and his family since Tiffany was diagnosed in September, traveling back and forth to Arizona, where she's been receiving extensive treatments.
"Over the last three months, the logistics of how we've decided to do this -- her parents have been here, they've been here for two weeks," Smith said. "We wanted to make sure that home base was set. Our neighbors, our friends, our support system, people have been taking the kids. We wanted to make sure that the kids schedules, they weren't altered, so they knew that they were fine and so she could focus on her healing."He also spoke glowingly about his wife's strength during this time.
"Inspirational," Smith said. "It's been inspirational. She's strong. I mean, look at her. She's strong, she's faithful, she's disciplined. It's just been inspirational."