DAYTON, Ohio -- La Salle might not beat Kansas State on Friday: The Explorers are a 13-seed, and the Wildcats are a 4-seed. The game is in Kansas City?the lower-seeded team gets no geographical favors. The Explorers will open some eyes, though. Attention will be paid.
For anyone who spent the winter taking in the tractor pulls that pass for basketball in the Big East?present company included?watching the Explorers break Boise State with speed and quickness was a long, cool breeze. Score it 80-71, in favor of the guys who ran and could not be caught.
There was a sequence in the first half Wednesday night that defied gravity and belief. Tyrone Garland, a La Salle guard, shot through a trio of Boise State defenders. The three looked like they were posing for statues. Garland made the layup. Thirty-two seconds later, Garland drove to the top of the key, stopped and lofted a perfect alley-oop to Ramon Galloway, another La Salle guard, who produced the desired result, a seismic dunk. Boise State called timeout then, to find some quickness?up by the refreshment stand, perhaps.
The Explorers led 31-17. The Broncos wore tire tracks on their backs.
Somewhere in South Philly, there must be an assembly line that cranks out short-ish backcourt players who run like a landslide and are quicker than a passing thought. They have to be able to sprint for days, pass the ball to whoever is open and make the occasional three-pointer, all while playing against people taller than they are.
The Explorers have three of those guys: Galloway, Garland and Tyreek Duren. Galloway and Garland combined for 43 points and seven assists. They played at 100 miles-an-hour. And then they stepped on the gas.
"We've recruited to play this way,'' explained La Salle coach John Giannini. "We had a quickness advantage, and it was the difference in the game.''
In so doing, the Explorers kept the Broncos at arm's length for the game's final 30 minutes. Boise State did creep to within six, with 1:52 left. That was a mirage that disappeared a minute later, when Galloway snuck inside the Broncos defense for a layup that made it 78-70 with 40 seconds to play.
"We're at our best when we get up and down the floor and play,'' Galloway said. In case you were wondering.
The Explorers spoiled a terrific offensive show by the Broncos 6-foot-6 swingman Anthony Drmic. Drmic, an Aussie with international experience, can score from anywhere. He had 25 of Boise's first 50 points, finishing with 28 while making nine of his 17 shots.
La Salle is in the tournament for the first time in 21 years. That's a little surprising to anyone who remembers college basketball before Michael and Larry. It's a joy for the La Salle fans, who will celebrate now as hard as their team plays?if that's possible.
The other game Wednesday felt like the warmup act that it was. James Madison beat LIU-Brooklyn, 68-55, in a match of No. 16 seeds. The Blackbirds kept it interesting, though not necessarily by how they played.
LIU had a player leave his jersey in his hotel room, and a real-live blackbird perched on a rafter in the UD Arena. They had two seniors who were college teammates for four years and high-school teammates before that, offering very public goodbyes to one another.
A good story is no substitute for better talent. James Madison didn't have its best scorer for the first half, but had enough else to subdue the Blackbirds. The Dukes, who were playing in their first NCAA tournament in 19 years, won their first tournament game since 1982. Even without 6-6, 265-pound senior forward Rayshawn Goins in the first half?JMU coach Matt Brady suspended Goins after police arrested him Saturday night following a disturbance at a party?the Dukes controlled the area close to the basket, on both ends of the floor. They blocked 10 shots.
"They really bothered our shots,'' LIU coach Jack Perri said. "That wasn't something we weren't thinking was going to happen.''
Probably, they didn't think guard Gerrell Martin would leave his jersey in his hotel room, either. Martin's number is 4, except last night, when it was 23, a number not listed on the Blackbirds roster. Hey, it happens.
In the meantime, Jamal Olasewere and C.J. Garner were saying goodbye. They came to LIU from the same high school, where they won a state championship. At LIU, they won three conference titles. "I'm thankful for every year I had with [Garner]," Olasewere said.
"We pushed each other to get to this level,'' Garner said. "We've taught each other a lot. I wish him the best.''
James Madison plays Indiana next. Dukes guard Andre Nation didn't sound impressed. "They got a big man. They got good guards. They're Indiana. We know about 'em,'' he said. "See 'em on TV all the time. Ain't nothin' new."
Probably, the Hoosiers won't come to the gym without their jerseys.