NEWARK, Del. - If you came to the Carpenter Center last night to see choreographed hoops, you were in the wrong place. If you came to see passionate basketball, you were in the right place.
La Salle had won five straight. The Explorers had been smooth on offense, suffocating on defense. Playing four guards, the ball pressure and long-range shooting had been a lethal combination.
It really looked like more of the same for the first 16 minutes against Delaware. The Explorers led by 11 and the Blue Hens really appeared as if they might crack.
Monte Ross, the Saint Joseph's assistant during the glory years, got the head Delaware job the day after the 2006 Final Four. It has been a struggle, but the administration has been patient, understanding that there are no quick fixes at this level of the sport.
The payoff looks like it is right around the corner. Delaware ran back at La Salle and got it tied early in the second half, then fell behind by six again. And quickly caught up again.
The game careened toward the finish line with both teams stuck on 60 through eight dry possessions. Right after a media timeout, Ross got Kyle Anderson, his only reliable three-pointer shooter, back in the game.
Anderson, shooting nearly 40 percent from the arc, had not made a shot. He was 0-for-5 from the arc. Seventeen seconds after entering, he nailed a long two from in front of the Delaware bench. Exactly 40 seconds later, he nailed another shot from almost the same spot, but behind the arc.
There were more than a few anxious moments down the stretch, but Delaware never gave up that lead and won it, 70-66.
La Salle (7-4) did a lot of things right. What the Explorers did not do was make long shots (they had been shooting an Atlantic 10 best 42.1 percent before going 2-for-16).
But effort was not an issue for the Explorers. They just ran into a team that played as hard as they did and just a little better in the final moments.
"Any coach with a good team would be disappointed in losing a close game, any coach would be disappointed in losing a winnable game, but I'm not disappointed with our effort,'' La Salle coach John Giannini said. "I give Delaware a lot of credit . . . If you know basketball, they have size and some quickness, and they beat us.''
La Salle got five in double figures. Big men Devon White (15 points and six rebounds) and Jerrell Wright (11 points, eight rebounds) were good around the rim. But La Salle's four guards were well-defended. And they missed some easy ones late, perhaps a result of all that harassment.
Ramon Galloway, who had averaged 19.5 points over his last three games, was 4-for-20. Tyreek Duren was in game-long foul trouble and never got into any rhythm.
Delaware star Devon Saddler had 18 points and 10 rebounds. And drew the defensive assignment on Galloway. Jamelle Hagins (11 points, 11 rebounds, five blocks) got his sixth consecutive double-double. But it was freshman Khalid Lewis (all 18 of his season-high points in the second half) who made the play of the game and got the ultimate compliment from his coach.
With La Salle down 67-66 and 20 seconds left, Duren looked like he was going to get to the basket for the go-ahead hoop. Lewis, from Trenton Catholic, reached in and took it away.
"That was Tyrone Barley-like,'' Ross said.
Barley was the sixth-man defensive terror on the St. Joe's 2003-04 team that was among the best in Big 5 history. He would be on any short list of the best on-ball defenders to ever play in the city.
Earl Pettis is the only senior in the La Salle rotation. Delaware's only senior barely plays. So these are young teams.
One La Salle player was nearly on the other side for this game. Ross really wanted Explorers sophomore Sam Mills.
With Delaware (5-4) still holding five points and barely 80 seconds left, Mills took a three that bounced a mile high. And then went in.
"When he shot the ball, I thought it was coming off and I was getting ready to call the offensive play,'' Ross said. "Then, all of a sudden, I see the thing go through the hoop. I'm like, 'Don't tell me, not him, of all people.' "
Ross really likes Mills' game at La Salle and was even happier his team won this game.
Mills actually had two free throws, a chance to tie it with 46 seconds left. He made only the first.
"That bubbled out for me," Mills said. "If I get that chance again, it's going in next time.''
Delaware has played everybody in Philly this season except Temple and St. Joe's. The Owls are here Dec. 30. Ross said he is not playing the Hawks.