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'Tis the season to believe for La Salle

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - For want of a better phrase, call it a matter of seeing is believing. "Seeing" in this case is the mediocre defense La Salle played last season.

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. - For want of a better phrase, call it a matter of seeing is believing.

"Seeing" in this case is the mediocre defense La Salle played last season.

"Believing" is the fact La Salle believes that defense wins ballgames.

A year ago La Salle allowed opponents an average of 78.6 points.

Prior to last night's nonconference game at Central Connecticut State, the Explorers were allowing only 63.1 points.

La Salle's defense smothered the Blue Devils as it cruised to an 85-69 victory.

Jerrell Wright scored a career-high 21 points for La Salle (8-4) while Ramon Galloway added 15.

But La Salle's defense was the story as it held the Blue Devils (5-6) to 39.3 percent shooting and forced 13 turnovers which were converted into 17 points.

"We had a very disappointing year last year," La Salle coach John Giannini said. "The reason why was we were one of the best offensive teams in the country. We were 20th in the country in scoring. But we were horrible defensively.

"This team has a lot of different kids on it. They want to win. We showed them the stats. Statistics, no matter how you look at them, clearly show that the best defensive teams usually win the most. These kids have bought into that. We're committed to defense. They've done a really good job. They know they have to defend to have a winning team."

Wright is one Explorer who had to learn the importance of playing defense.

"It's pretty hard adjusting," Wright said. "I've got to react. I can't reach now [when he gets in foul trouble].

"Defense is important to winning. Every game our shots aren't going to fall so defense is our main priority and tonight we showed it."

Wright also showed he's capable of lighting up a scoreboard.

In this game he connected on nine of 14 shots and pulled down nine rebounds.

"The first plays of the game, Coach G said he wanted to give me the ball," Wright said. "The first shot I took was a jump shot and I missed it. I saw how he reacted. After that, I wasn't going to take any more jump shots. I was going to take everything in.

"[CCS' Joe Efese] played a good game. But I was able to use my strength and my speed. I guess this was a breakout game for me tonight."

How true.

As a team, La Salle set a pair of season-highs by sinking 35 baskets and shooting 56.5 percent.

The Blue Devils were in a bind even before they stepped on the court because they were minus their top player, Ken Horton, who was sidelined with an ankle injury.

Horton's absence removed an average of 22.5 points and 9.3 rebounds from the Blue Devils' lineup.

Kyle Vinales scored 18 points and Robby Ptacek added 14 for CCSU, which lost at home for the first time in five games this season.

La Salle turned the game into a halfcourt scrimmage in the first half, which ended with the Explorers leading 52-22.

The Explorers led 10-7 when they hit the Blue Devils with a 14-0 run that ballooned their lead to 24-7.

Wright ignited the run by tapping in a pair of missed shots and Sam Mills and Taylor Dunn capped it by burying three-point shots.