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La Salle uses depth to win Gulf Coast Showcase championship

The explorers' bench outscored their three opponents, 76-46.

La Salle guard Saul Phiri played 40 minutes and made four three-pointers in an 81-76 overtime victory against South Alabama.
La Salle guard Saul Phiri played 40 minutes and made four three-pointers in an 81-76 overtime victory against South Alabama.Read moreTIM TAI / Staff Photographer

Three games in three nights.

That’s how it went for La Salle this week, and the Explorers were up to the task. They won all three games to claim the Gulf Coast Showcase Championship and improve to 4-2 on the season. The Explorers’ performance was highlighted by a 81-76 victory in overtime over South Alabama Wednesday night in the championship game.

“Really proud of these guys,” coach Ashley Howard said in a postgame interview. “I’m proud of the fact they never quit. They never give up.”

Senior guard Isiah Deas led the Explorers with 21 points, and sophomore forward Ed Croswell collected a double-double by putting up 18 points and 12 rebounds.

The most impressive takeaway from the tournament was the number of Explorers capable of catching fire. Seven players scored 10 or more points in at least one of the games.

A concern before the tournament was that La Salle’s shooters may get tired. But they didn’t and finished the tournament with 31 three-pointers.

Croswell’s performance in the championship game was his best of the tournament. But his biggest play happened in the game one night earlier against Wright State on Tuesday. Tied at 70 with about 20 seconds remaining, La Salle held the ball for the last shot. Brandon Stone had the hot hand, so he took the shot but missed a three-pointer. Croswell grabbed the offensive rebound and made the game-winner with about a second left in the game.

Croswell was named tournament MVP.

Each night, it was someone different winning the game. Sherif Kenney led the Explorers with 15 points in their first game, a 75-64 win against Murray State on Monday. Stone and Deas led the scoring in the final two games, respectively.

The bench outscored the three opponents, 76-46.

La Salle may not have a dominant go-to scorer. But that seems to be an advantage in tournaments, when players mayl get tired if overused. So far this season, seven players are averaging between 6.7 and 10 points per game for the Explorers.

Defensively, the Explorers held each of their opponents to 43% or lower in shooting percentage, and the offense shot better than 45% in each game. That’s a good recipe for winning games.

“We talk all the time about setting the tone defensively [and] not letting our offense dictate our energy on the defensive end,” Howard said.

This is the second consecutive season during which the Explorers have won an in-season tournament. Next season, they will be participating in the Cayman Islands Classic as part of a loaded field. Kansas State, Mississippi, Miami and Nevada are among the schools slated to participate in the eight-team tournament.

A game with Big 5 foe Villanova is next at the Finneran Pavillion on Sunday, Dec. 1 at 6:30 p.m.