Disgusted at watching Mount St. Mary's carve up La Salle's man-to-man defense for the first 28 minutes of the game, Explorers coach John Giannini dialed up the zone, a defense his team doesn't play much, to try to cool off the opponent.
Talk about Christmas magic. The Explorers held the Mountaineers to 2-of-10 shooting and forced three turnovers in the final eight minutes to pick up a 65-59 victory last night at Tom Gola Arena.
The Explorers (6-5) trailed by nine points early in the second half and by 48-43 with 11 minutes, 24 seconds to play before Giannini decided to go zone after the half's second media time-out, with the Mountaineers shooting 52.5 percent from the floor at that point.
It took the new defense a while to kick in. The Mount (3-8) took a 53-49 lead on Jeremy Goode's three-point basket with 8:21 to play, but that was the visitors' last field goal for 7:26.
"With our length, we should be a very good zone team," Giannini said. "We were struggling in our man-to-man. We will go to a zone at times, but today it just turned out to be the absolute right thing to do to help us win the game."
Rodney Green sparked the offense during the ensuing 11-0 La Salle run, scoring seven points, two coming on an incredible drive in which he shot while falling, with the ball going off the backboard and in as he lay on the court.
" 'Go in' - that's what I was thinking," Green said. "But I didn't think it was going in when I let it go."
The 6-foot-3 Green, who had success posting up the Mount's smaller guards, hit a running bank shot to give the Explorers a 60-53 lead with 3:53 to play. La Salle struggled with the Mountaineers' full-court press after that, committing three turnovers, but they didn't hurt much because Mount St. Mary's was struggling.
The Mount went to the free-throw line on three consecutive possessions, but hit only 2 of 6. A 15-footer by Vernon Goodridge at the shot-clock buzzer put the Explorers up, 63-55, with 1:44 to play.
Green finished with 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and three steals, and Kimmani Barrett added 15 points.
The Mount, playing its ninth road game, was led by Goode, Jean Cajou and Kelly Beidler, each with 11 points.
The Explorers connected on 11 field goals in the first half, all from three feet or less, but trailed, 32-26. Thanks to 14 offensive rebounds, they took 11 more shots than the Mount but hit only 28.9 percent of them.
"In the second half, we obviously had a very nice turnaround," Giannini said. "The zone helped us tremendously."