THE FIRST batch of Explorers Basketball Sweet 16 shirts were hung on racks at the La Salle campus store about noon Tuesday. They were gone in less than half an hour.

"I have a bigger family," laughed Denise Pruskowski-Kavanagh, an associate nursing professor at La Salle who was clutching nearly a dozen dark-blue graphic T-shirts under her arm. "There are six children; two are graduate students and two are alums."

Boasting seven shirts, Kate Ward-Gaus, a La Salle drug-and-alcohol educator, carried an index card with names and sizes.

"They're flying off the shelves," she said. "I got calls from friends, family and alums. They all wanted them."

A small crowd gathered in the two early birds' wake, tipped off by a Facebook notice about the sale. Many found bare-metal hangers instead of T-shirts commemorating that school's first trip to the Sweet 16 since the 1950s.

The team clinched a trip to the Sweet 16 with its third win in less than a week Sunday, beating Ole Miss, 76-74. Already, the Olney boys are in Los Angeles gearing up for their West Regional semifinal game against Wichita State at the Staples Center on Thursday.

Back at campus, admitted fair-weather fans are hard to come by. Many say they saw this day coming all along.

Sophomore Aiyana Pellegrino, 19, calls herself a lifelong fan. The petite nursing major snagged one of the last shirts at the store Tuesday - a double extra-large - noting she didn't mind cutting it down to size herself.

"You're not just a bunch of people anymore," she said, recalling the way students streamed into the night air following Sunday's win and clambered up telephone poles at 20th Street and Olney Avenue to cheer the Explorers. "You're one school, one team, like one person."

Christina Mariani, 21, endured three losing years as a loyal Explorers watch-party attendee.

"It's been really great as a senior to get this 150th-anniversary gift for the school," the South Philly native said. "It's been amazing to see the change in spirit."

La Salle goes on Easter break Friday, but Facebook groups have sprung up encouraging students to stay and cheer. For many, it's a no-brainer.

Shawn Haak, 18, said he anticipates more than half the students will stick around. The freshman admits he wasn't exactly a fan when he first came to La Salle from New York last fall.

"I didn't even know about La Salle basketball," he said. "You hear about Philly basketball schools like Temple and St. Joe's."

After storming the court following a February win and joining the throng of fans in the streets Sunday night, Haak is ready to stay put and bleed blue and gold.

"The Sweet 16 is great, but if we get to the Elite Eight?" he asked. "People will go nuts."

On Twitter: @jad_sleiman