La Salle will open the Atlantic 10 portion of its schedule in 9 days. To hear coach John Giannini describe it, the Explorers are in deep trouble.

"We are not playing well right now," Giannini said. "We haven't felt right in practice or in games. I have some things I need to solve."

Giannini was bemoaning his team's performance in yesterday's 78-75 loss to Cornell at Tom Gola Arena. La Salle, particularly in the first half, was sometimes sloppy when it had the ball, and lazy when it was trying to defend Cornell.

Rodney Green lead the Explorers with 19 points, but also had seven of the team's 16 turnovers. While all five starters scored in double figures, there were enough mental lapses - particularly on defense - to cause Giannini ulcers.

"We don't sustain effort. We're not consistent. We're up and down and that's the way we practice," the coach said. "I don't think we can beat good teams until we become more consistent [for] 40 minutes."

The defeat was La Salle's third in the last four games, though all have come against some heady competition. One loss was to No. 1 Kansas. Another was to Oklahoma State. And yesterday's was no disgrace, either. Cornell is a top-20 RPI team that owns wins over Alabama, UMass and St. John's.

La Salle, however, slipped to 7-5.

"Obviously, our depth is down a little bit right now," Giannini said. "But the guys we have out on the court are good enough to win. We just don't play well enough."

La Salle once again was without steady guard Ruben Guillandeaux, who remains out with a stress fracture in his foot. Forward Terrell Williams also missed yesterday's game with an ankle injury. But Cornell, as Giannini was quick to point out, was without two starters of its own (point guard Louis Dale and forward Alex Tyler).

"You could call it a wash," Giannini said.

Cornell senior Ryan Wittman scored 34 points and broke the school career scoring record of 1,663 previously held by John Bajusz (1983-87). Wittman is at 1,677 and each of his 34 yesterday was clutch, whether it was with the shot clock winding down or a response to a La Salle dunk or last-minute free throws.

"When he's feeling it like that, you just have to feed him the ball," said sophomore Chris Wroblewski, who stepped in admirably at point guard and had 11 points and six assists in 38 minutes. "He was putting on a show. I was just along for the ride."

It is somewhat appropriate that Wittman set the record in Philadelphia. In 1981, his father, Randy Wittman, was a starter for Indiana when the Hoosiers won the national title at the Spectrum.

That championship game, in which Indiana beat North Carolina, caused much national consternation when it was played despite President Reagan being wounded during an assassination attempt just hours before. Ryan Wittman was merely a gleam in his dad's eye then.

"He kind of just lets me experience things on my own, letting me go through stuff," Ryan Wittman said. "It's not something we really talk about."

Wittman had 23 points in the second half; the 34 was a career high.

"He had open looks in the first half that he normally makes," said Cornell coach Steve Donahue. "He came out in the second half and put the dagger to them every time we needed it."

La Salle's next game is at Binghamton on Saturday. The Explorers open conference play a week from tomorrow against visiting Xavier. While Cornell can celebrate its 10-2 start, Giannini must find answers to his squad's inconsistency.

"Every team has certain guys you can count on. That's a fact for every team in the country," Giannini said. "One of my challenges is getting some of the guys that are less consistent, but good kids and potentially very good players, to just be more consistent. But because of our lack of depth, we can't turn and put someone else in. Right now, we gotta play guys and if they're not performing, we don't have a lot of options."