Published January 13, 2015
Hitting shot after shot wasn't enough to get Boise State its first NCAA tournament win.
Yes, La Salle was that good.
Tyrone Garland led La Salle's guard-driven offense with 22 points, and the Explorers wrapped up the NCAA tournament's First Four by getting the better of an old-fashioned shootout, beating Boise State 80-71 on Wednesday night.
It was a notable moment for the 13th-seeded Explorers (22-9), who hadn't even been in the tournament for 21 years. Now, they head to Kansas City to play fourth-seeded Kansas State on Friday.
Thirteenth-seeded Boise State (21-11) got its first at-large bid and was looking for the first NCAA tournament win in its history. The Broncos were up to it in a game of try-to-top-this shooting, falling to 0-6 in the tournament.
Anthony Drmic had a game-high 28 points for the Broncos, who shot 49 percent but trailed most of the way. They couldn't keep up in a wide-open game of top-this-shot.
"We didn't shoot the ball that bad," Drmic said. "Give them credit. But it starts with defense. We didn't come to play defense. We couldn't stop them driving, so I'm not very happy with that."
Ramon Galloway, one of the Atlantic 10's top scorers, added 21 points in a fast-paced offense that did pretty much whatever it wanted. The Explorers shot a season-high 63 percent from the field — 16 of 22 in the second half.
Garland went 9 of 11 from the field — his best shooting game of the season — and the Explorers were 11 of 21 behind the arc.
In essence, the Explorers beat the Broncos at their own small-ball game.
"We've played small all year and probably had an advantage because of that," coach Leon Rice said. "But with their guards and their quickness, they play small too, and they were quicker than us.
"Garland's the quickest player we've faced, I think, this year. They just created so many problems because when they're shooting the ball like that, they can drive a hard bargain at anybody."
La Salle is back in the tournament for the first time since 1992, a span that included a rape scandal involving three players. The men's and women's basketball coaches were fired over it in 2004, and Giannini came in to dig out the program.
Giannini led the Explorers to back-to-back 20-win seasons for the first time since 1988-90. His first coaching appearance in the NCAA tournament completed the rebuilding. Now, the Explorers head to Kansas City, the place where they won the national title by beating Bradley in 1954.
Although the two teams had never played, they felt like they knew each other from somewhere. They saw mirror images of themselves as they watched videos in preparation for the game — two teams that use four guards, taking an uncommonly small approach to a big man's game.
La Salle's best is the 6-foot-3 Galloway, who was second in the Atlantic 10 with 17 points per game. He's taken on a bigger role since 6-foot-11 center Steve Zack sprained his left foot in early March, sidelining him indefinitely. Zack was on crutches Wednesday, towering over the rest of the Explorers during warmups.
Boise State follows the lead of Drmic (17.3 points) and Derrick Marks (16.3), who formed the highest-scoring guard tandem in the Mountain West. The Broncos will sometimes put five guards on the floor, opting for speed over size.
The Broncos' concession to size got them going early. Six-foot-9 forward Ryan Watkins scored their first three baskets, getting the ball inside. La Salle went with its slick guards, who quickly settled in behind the arc.
Sam Mills hit three 3s, Galloway scored his first points off a drive to the basket, and Garland and D.J. Peterson made layups for a 22-12 midway through the first half, prompting Boise State to call a timeout.
The Explorers would never be seriously threatened again.
Garland's alley-oop pass to Galloway for a dunk off a fast break gave La Salle its biggest lead, 31-17, with 5:24 left in the half. La Salle led 35-27 at the break.
Six-foot-8 forward Jerrell Wright — the Explorers' inside threat — scored four baskets in the first five minutes of the second half, keeping La Salle in control. Mills' 3-pointer extended the lead back to 14 points with 14 minutes to go.
Drmic kept the Broncos in the game, scoring 14 points in the first 10 minutes of the second half. But Boise State couldn't stop La Salle's balanced offense long enough to make a run until the closing minutes.
Marks' pull-up jumper cut it to 74-68 with 1:51 left, the closest the Broncos had been since the opening minute of the second half. The comeback ended there.
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