By Joseph Santoliquito
PHILADELPHIA (CBS)—It’s the little things that tend to resonate. Especially in March. Especially when you’ve come this far, as La Salle has during this NCAA Tournament, breaking through a decade’s long threshold that’s spanned back to the late-1980s without winning a tournament game.
But the fatigue of travel and playing three games in five days was bound to take a toll. Or so you would think.
Thanks to the “Southwest Philly floater.”
Against longer, larger Mississippi, the smaller, faster Explorers battled stubbornly, and a slashing Tyrone Garland sliced through a little sliver of daylight and won it on a layup with 2.5 seconds left, giving the Explorers a dramatic 76-74 victory at the Sprint Center, in Kansas City, Missouri.
The victory continues an amazing, improbable journey for the No. 13-seed Explorers, who improved to 24-9, and will advance to play surprising No. 9 seed Wichita State, upset winners over West bracket No. 1 seed Gonzaga, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday night in Los Angeles.
The three NCAA Tournament victories are the most by a La Salle team since Tom Gola led the Explorers to the NCAA finals in 1955.
La Salle’s Ramon Galloway finished with a game-high 24 points on 8 for 13 shooting, followed by a strong performance by Tyreek Duren, who had 19, including two critical free throws with 1:07 to play that tied the game at 74-74.
Then there was Garland, who was exceptional in the Explorers’ open-round victory over Boise State, and followed that performance up by scoring 17 on 6-for-16 shooting against Mississippi.
Including a shot Garland is sure to remember for the rest of his life.
After La Salle’s defense clamped down on Mississippi, forcing the Rebels to turn the ball over on a shot-clock violation, the Explorers had a chance to win it with :31.8 seconds left in the game and the length of the court to go.
Mississippi, for some reason, did not pressure the ball and sat back in a 2-3 zone. Duren patiently waited as he crossed halfcourt, again, with no one from Mississippi pressuring the ball. As time wound down, Duren passed it Garland with just under six seconds to play.
Garland drove the lane, accelerated through the Rebels zone and attacked Mississippi’s 6-foot-9 Reginald Buckner, switching hands and tossing a shot that banked off the glass, hung tantalizingly on the rim, before finally falling.
Mississippi’s last-gasp, three-quarters court heave didn’t come close.
As the final buzzer sounded, Galloway fell to the floor, shaking his head in disbelief. Explorers coach John Giannini looked up into the rafters, possibly reassuring himself what he saw actually happened, and then there was Garland, mobbed by his teammates, mugging for the cameras.
Just when it seemed the enervated Explorers didn’t appear to have another gear, just when it seemed their run would end, down, 69-64, with 4:19 left after a Buckner basket, La Salle still managed to find a way.
Leaving Garland to play the role of hero.
“We just spread them out against their zone and our guards are so quick,” said Giannini, who became the first coach in NCAA Tournament history to go 3-0 as a No. 13 seed or lower. “There was plenty of space, and no one is quicker than Tyrone. He’s as quick as anyone in the country. We couldn’t be more proud. We spoke all week about the great La Salle tradition, and these guys are doing it right before our eyes.”
Garland wanted the ball.
“That was the Southwest Philly floater,” a beaming Garland said about the winning shot.
With Temple and Villanova knocked out of the tournament, La Salle has now won 10 of its last 13 games and remains the only show in town–and the toast of the town.