Think Ramon Galloway is excited about how things are going for La Salle basketball?
"It was a huge step," Galloway said, with an emphasis on "huge," after the Explorers beat No. 19 VCU 69-61, giving them consecutive wins against ranked teams for the first time in more than 60 years. "The biggest step probably in La Salle program history."
Coach Tom Giannini interrupted with a laugh at that point, noting that La Salle won the national championship (in 1954), but the point was made, and Galloway and his coach insisted that they are part of a changing of the way La Salle is perceived.
'We don't want to have a mindset of upsetting teams. We want to have a mindset of beating teams," Galloway said.
Galloway scored 31 points, 12 during an 18-4 run in the second half Saturday night, and La Salle turned back a late rally by the Rams to follow up a dramatic, one-point victory on Wednesday night against No. 9 Butler with another one.
The upstart Explorers (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10), who last beat ranked teams consecutively in the 1952 NIT tournament, when they beat three in a row, are off to their best start since the 1990-91 team started the year 14-4.
Just don't expect them to act like they didn't expect it.
"If you think we're surprised, you're nuts!" the animated Giannini snapped at one point, citing the Explorers' 21 wins last year, and a victory in November against Villanova. "You know nothing about our program and our players if you think we're surprised about winning against a good team. ... We don't care what anyone says or writes. We don't read articles."
Juvonte Reddic had 22 points and 10 rebounds for the Rams (16-5, 4-2), who lost for the second time in three days after a 13-game winning streak. VCU blew a 7-point lead in the last minute and lost in overtime at Richmond on Thursday.
Treveon Graham added 13 points and 12 rebounds, but shot just 4 for 17.
The Rams appeared poised to get back on the winning track when they opened the second half with 17 consecutive points, but the Explorers responded in a streaky game of shifting momentum. Just as quick as VCU and with experienced guards, La Salle did it by attacking on offense.
"It takes a lot of poise and confidence and guts to withstand that against a good team and in such an emotional atmosphere," Giannini said.
Trailing 45-38, the Explorers got a driving basket from Galloway, and a 10-footer from Tyrone Garland. Galloway scored again on a driving bucket, and after Reddic made a free throw, Tyreek Duren hit a pair of free throws. Garland then scored and Galloway had a 3-pointer, a jumper and another 3-pointer.
That gave La Salle a 53-47 lead, and VCU rallied to 56-55 with 2:50 remaining.
Two of the baskets came from Rams scoring leader Treveon Graham, who missed 12 of his first 13 field goal attempts, and a sellout crowd at the Siegel Center rose expecting a stirring, victorious finish.
But Galloway hit a pair of free throws, Reddic threw a pass away at the other end and Duren drove for a layup after the Explorers burned plenty of time off the clock, restoring the lead to 60-55.
The Rams never got closer than four again.
"We knew their guards were going to attack, one on one," Theus said, adding that coach Shaka Smart pounded the thought into their heads during their short preparation. "We've just got to guard the ball and we did a poor job of that today."
Added Smart: "It's one thing to know it's coming. It's another thing to stop it."
VCU erased a 34-25 halftime deficit with a burst to start the second half. The Rams forced three early turnovers and scored the first 17 points to take a 42-34 lead, whipping the crowd in a frenzy.
But just as quickly, the Explorers came back, eventually handing the Rams just their 29th loss against 173 victories in the 13-year history of the Siegel Center.
The first half was all runs, started by VCU when it scored 11 of 13 points to lead 11-8.
Duren then scored seven in a 9-0 run for the Explorers, and Reddic then scored the first eight for VCU in a 12-2 burst that gave the Rams a 23-19 lead with 8 minutes left in the half.
The Explorers dominated the rest of the way, taking a 34-25 lead into halftime after outscoring VCU 15-2 as Galloway hit two 3-pointers, a long 2-pointer and La Salle got three layups in a row.
For the Rams, Reddic and Troy Daniels were 8 for 11 from the field, and the rest of the team was 2 for 22. The Rams finished shooting 38.3 percent (23 of 60), the Explorers 47.1 percent (25 of 51).
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