LA SALLE had 8 days to digest a disappointing trip to the Paradise Jam in the U.S. Virgin Islands. Coming off consecutive losses to Providence and Northern Iowa in the tournament, the Explorers had little margin for error last night against Hartford.
The Explorers used a big run in the second half to pull away from Hartford, 75-62, to improve to 4-4.
"I thought we really competed defensively," Explorers coach John Giannini said. "We had guys play more the way we are used to seeing them play, more the way we want to see them play."
Giannini saw Tyrone Garland play the way he wants him to. The senior guard led the team with 17 points on 5-for-10 shooting, and went 6-for-7 from the free-throw line.
"Tyrone really played one of his best games since he's been here," Giannini said. "Obviously, he has been struggling, like a lot of us."
When a Wes Cole attempt from beyond the arc that would have made it a three-point game rimmed out with a little more than 11 minutes left, La Salle took control. The Explorers went on a 16-5 run that put them up by double digits for the remainder of the contest.
Steve Zack was a spark plug on that run, and on offense all night, as he dumped in 15 points on only eight shots, and was 7-for-8 from the line. He also grabbed 10 rebounds pace the Explorers.
"You do whatever is working," Zack said. "Me and Jerrell [Wright] both felt we had an advantage down there early, so we really attacked that."
Mark Nwakamma had a good game for the Hawks. The 6-6 forward had a double-double of 23 points and 10 rebounds. He went 10-for-17 from the field.
Hartford (2-7) shot 44.9 percent from the field (22-for-49).
The Explorers' shooting struggles from beyond the arc continued. They were shooting only 30.2 percent from distance heading into the game. That number did not improve much, as they were 4-for-13 from downtown, good for 30.8 percent.
"It's just a little bit of a shooting slump. Once our shooters like Sam [Mills] and D.J. [Peterson] hit a couple of threes, that will motivate the team to hit more threes," Garland said. "Once they get going, I think the shooting will be better."
He added, "We shoot almost every day, so we just have to keep working, and they are eventually going to fall."
Giannini said that his players' shooting issues can easily be fixed, but that they are troublesome nonetheless. He said that the Northern Iowa game, in which the Explorers shot 31.6 percent from the field, was the most worrisome game to date.
"The second half of Northern Iowa was the most bizarre that I have had one of my teams play," Giannini said. "Really good players with track records of shooting success refused to take open shots. Their confidence was shaken."
La Salle took the open shots, and was in control for much of the first half against the Hawks. The Explorers shot 40.0 percent (12-for-30) from the floor in the first 20 minutes, vaulting them out to a 33-26 lead at the half. Eight players for La Salle scored in the first half, with Khalid Lewis and Rohan Brown leading the team with six apiece.
Hartford did not fare as well shooting in the first half. The Hawks made only 10 of their 27 attempts from the floor, including only four of their 16 shots from beyond the arc. For the half, they were led by Nwakamma, who dumped in 10 points and grabbed seven rebounds in his 18 minutes on the floor.