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La Salle passes with flying colors in win over Rider

If La Salle coach John Giannini and his staff have any ideas about fixing the troubled national economy, perhaps they should get on the next train to Washington and address Congress with their thoughts.

If La Salle coach John Giannini and his staff have any ideas about fixing the troubled national economy, perhaps they should get on the next train to Washington and address Congress with their thoughts.

Following Sunday's Big 5 loss to Villanova, in which the Explorers committed 15 turnovers and dealt just nine assists, Giannini lamented his team's lack of passing skills. Actually, lamented might be too soft a word. He was volcanic, headed toward eruption.

In the 2 days of practice preceding last night's home game against Rider, Giannini's staff addressed the passing issue, putting together a tape of how well 'Nova moved the ball around the floor. The players watched it . . . over and over and over and over again.

Problem solved, at least for last night. La Salle transformed into a ball-moving machine against the Broncs, dishing 26 assists on 32 baskets while rolling to a 92-75 win to improve to 5-4.

The adjustment played a hand in four players hitting double figures, as Rodney Green had 19 points, Kimmani Barrett had 16, Ruben Guillandeaux had 13 and Yves Mekongo Mbala added 10.

To emphasize just how good those assist numbers were, consider La Salle came into the game with 88 assists against 124 turnovers on the year.

"We told the kids that the key to passing the ball is you have to want to," Giannini said. "Rodney had a great line when he said that we want to pass the ball well because we want to win. The Villanova game was a lesson well learned. Our staff showed them the difference between Villanova's passing and our passing."

As odd as it sounds, one Big 5 team actually helped another win a game.

La Salle jumped all over the Broncs (5-3) from the start, rolling to a 20-6 lead with 12 minutes left in the first half on an alley-oop dunk by Vernon Goodridge on a pass from Guillandeaux. The Explorers kept the lead at double-figures for most of the first stanza, finishing with a 44-34 lead.

"I'm embarrassed by the start of the game," said Rider coach Tommy Dempsey. "We dug ourselves such a hole early. They jumped on us from the start and took us out of our defensive game plan. We were trailing by double-figures all night, so we had to apply some pressure. We pressed so much I thought we fatigued."

Which made for some sloppy defense. That was compounded by La Salle's crisp offense.

No one benefited from the Villanova film more than Green. The point guard might have had his best all-around game ever as an Explorer. Besides his 19 points, the Prep Charter grad posted eight rebounds and eight assists.

It was especially gratifying to have this kind of a game against one of his best friends, Rider forward Mike Ringgold (Roman Catholic), who finished with 16 points. The two shared a huge bearhug during opening warmups and talked a little smack to each other on the floor throughout the game.

"Me and Mike are great friends," said Green, who is now 59 points away from 1,000. "We've been friends since the eighth grade at a St. Joe's camp. It's fun to go out there and play against someone that you're really familiar with.

"We had talked and stuff a lot about this game, talking smack about who was going to win. I couldn't let him win. I didn't want to hear it from hear for the rest of the year."

There was little doubt who would walk away with bragging rights in this one, as La Salle got the lead as high as 20 when Green's layup made it 76-56 with 9:14 left in the game. From then, it was just a matter of how many points the Explorers would score and how much they'd win by. The 92 points are the most they've scored against a Division I team since a 111-105 loss to Duquesne last Feb. 7.

La Salle also owned the boards (46-31), shot 32-for-57 (56.1 percent) and limited the Broncs to just 38.2 percent shooting (26-for-68).

"We defended well, outrebounded them and our passing game was exquisite," Giannini said. "It's a sign of improvement that we passed the ball better. Good passers make good shooters. When we're passing and getting open shots, we turn it over less and get higher-percentage shots. If everyone on the team is going to pass, by giving the ball up more, everyone ends up scoring more. It's counterintuitive."

Any chance of heading to the nation's capital to talk money will have to wait, as Giannini planned to watch tape of Cornell (Saturday's opponent) right after the game.

Green, however, had other plans.

"Man, I'm calling Mike tonight," he said. "I'm gonna call him, text him and e-mail him and let him know who won. I have to. I know if they'd won, he'd be doing it to me." *