Anxious to get back on the court following a ranked Pittsburgh Panthers welcome the La Salle conference affair.
La Salle, which plays its basketball out of the Atlantic 10 Conference, is 2-1 on the young season, sandwiching wins over Lafayette (79-53) and James Madison (92-83) around a nine-point loss to local rival Villanova (76-67). The Explorers are coached by Dr. John Giannini, who is in his eighth season at the helm, and is the school's all-time winningest coach in A-10 play. La Salle will kick off its conference slate at home against Xavier on January 4, 2012.
Pittsburgh opened the 2011-12 campaign with wins over Albany (89-56) and Rider (86-78), but then came last Wednesday's visit from Long Beach State. The 49ers took the lead about eight minutes in and never looked back, claiming an 86-76 win over the Big East Conference power. The loss snapped the Panthers' 58-game home winning streak over non-league foes, and they had been 80-0 against such opponents in the months of November and December since the Petersen Events Center opened in 2002.
Though residing in the same state, La Salle and Pittsburgh are meeting for only the second time tonight, and the Panthers won the first encounter, 95-91, during the 1984 NIT at the legendary Palestra in Philadelphia.
La Salle has been one of the more explosive offensive teams in the Atlantic 10 here in the early going, as the Explorers are averaging 80 ppg in hitting 44.8 percent of their field goal attempts, which includes a sizzling 45.1 percent effort from three-point range. Guard Tyreek Duren has been nothing short of sensational to this point, as the 6-0 sophomore currently ranks fourth in the league in scoring (21.3 ppg), while also coming up with 5.3 rpg and logging team-highs in assists (14) and steals (seven). Both Duren and Sam Mills (15.7 ppg) are knocking down more than half of their field goal attempts, and Earl Pettis joins them in double figures (14.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg), despite shooting just 37.2 percent from the floor. The Explorers have taken very good care of the basketball thus far, averaging just a shade over 10 turnovers per game, and they are pretty much dead even in rebounding. Duren poured in 23 points, Mills added 18, Pettis 15, and Jerrell Wright logged a double-double consisting of a career-high 14 points and 12 rebounds to lead the Explorers past visiting James Madison over the weekend. A commanding 26-12 edge in points from the foul line played an integral role in the outcome.
With three players averaging at least 16 ppg this season, Pittsburgh has had very little trouble putting points on the board (83.7 ppg). The Panthers are shooting 50.3 percent from the field, which includes a stellar 44.7 percent showing from three-point range, and they are outrebounding the opposition by 11 rpg. Unfortunately for Pitt, the opposition is hitting its field goal attempts 52.6 percent of the time, although only 34.5 percent of their long- range bombs have found the bottom of the net. Long Beach State shot an eye- popping 59 percent from the floor, dished out 24 assists and committed just 10 turnovers in last week's unexpected win. The 49ers controlled just about every aspect of the game, outscoring the Panthers on the break (25-5) and in the paint (48-31). Ashton Gibbs led Pitt with 20 points, Nasir Robinson added 19, Tray Woodall tallied 17 and Lamar Patterson chipped in with 16. Gibbs is averaging 21.7 ppg thus far, and Woodall is close behind with 19.7 ppg on the strength of his 62.5 percent field goal efficiency, which includes a 57.1 percent effort from three-point land. Robinson (16.3 ppg) rounds out the double-digit scorers for coach Jamie Dixon's club.