La Salle stunned by Davidson, 67-66
NEW YORK - La Salle coach John Giannini looked up at the high-definition scoreboard at the Barclays Center to see if it was true, but he already knew.
The clock was all zeroes, and time had run out on his Explorers' season because of a driving, off-balance layup by Atlantic Ten player of the year Tyler Kalinoski. Davidson had come all the way back from an 18-point deficit to stun La Salle in the A-10 quarterfinals, 67-66, Friday.
"I was surprised that shot went in," Giannini said. "I thought that we had them out of rhythm a little bit and it looked like the ball was thrown toward the rim and not shot as well as they normally do, and it just kind of took a couple bounces and went in."
The Explorers held a large lead for most of the first half thanks to their seniors. La Salle knew going into the game that it had a mismatch on paper. As Eagles coach Chip Kelly once said, "Bigger people beat up little people." The Wildcats had nobody bigger than 6-foot-7 Peyton Aldridge, who played significant minutes.
Steve Zack and Jerrell Wright took full advantage of that for most of the game. Zack turned in the best performance of his tenure at La Salle, scoring a career-high 24 points and grabbing 15 rebounds to lead the Explorers.
Wright, Zack's counterpart on the blocks, also had a monster game. He scored 19 points and grabbed six rebounds. Fellow senior D.J. Peterson, who has been quiet much of the season, came through with 11 points and nine rebounds.
"Just being aggressive inside," Wright said of what led to the Explorers' dominant first half. "Me and Steve knew that we can get the ball inside and score over their bigs. So the first half, we just want to just be aggressive and look for each other down low."
Davidson used its best threat, the deep ball, to climb back into the game. After a technical foul was called on Peterson with a little less than two minutes left in the first half, the Wildcats went on a 7-0 run, including two shots from deep in the final minute that gave them all the momentum going into the locker room.
"I think the two possessions at the end of the half got us - I think it was back-to-back threes," Davidson coach Bob McKillop said. "We went into the locker room, and we have this thing called 'Big Mo.' We want to go into the locker room and really dominate that last minute."
McKillop's team used "Big Mo" in the second half, especially on the defensive end. As helpless as Davidson's defense was in the first half, the Wildcats limited the damage in the second half. They held the Explorers to 20 second-half points and none in the final 4 minutes, 45 seconds. Wright and Zack combined for 12 points in the last 20 minutes.
"We came out in the second half, and we played the post entry a little bit differently," McKillop said. "We had played on the top shoulder of the post, and then we sat behind his butt after that - so that if he did catch it, at least he wasn't in a position where he was sliding off of us. We had to actually put a wall up so that his only option was to turn into the paint, rather than drop baseline."
When the stops started for Davidson (24-6, 14-4), the shots started falling. The Wildcats knocked in eight shots from beyond the arc in the second half, with none bigger than Jack Gibbs' three-pointer with 1:18 remaining to make it a one-point game, paving the way for Kalinoski's heroics. Gibbs led his team with 22 points.
La Salle dropped to 17-16, a disappointing mark for a team with as much talent as it had. Giannini is not sure why the season went the way it did, but he said it was not for a lack of effort.
"I think our last two games showed that we are capable of more than what our final record indicates," Giannini said. "And I don't know why we didn't perform a little bit better at times, because we do have good kids who want to be successful. And I do think that we worked them and taught them as best as we could."
The Explorers will have to deal with the losses of Wright, Zack, and Peterson next season.
"They are more than basketball players," Giannini said, getting emotional. "They are good students and they are loyal friends, and they are just about as good as people as I could hope to coach - in fact, no, they are; I can't hope to coach better people."