By Paul Gotham
BROOKLYN, NY — As time dwindled away in Friday afternoon’s Atlantic 10 quarter-final match between the no. 5 Butler Bulldogs and no.4 La Salle Explorers, questions of La Salle’s possibilities for the NCAA Tournament gained momentum.
Rotnei Clarke led four Bulldogs in double figures as Butler (11-5/26-7) defeated La Salle (11-5/21-9) 69-58 at the Barclays Center.
The loss leaves La Salle without a much-needed win to make a last impression on the NCAA selection committee. And so a team with 21 wins and a fourth-place finish in one of the nation’s top conferences, will have to wait and hope for the best.
“Their job is to pick who they think the best teams are,” said Giannini when asked about his team’s chances for an at-large bid. “We did win 20 games last year, and we have been in discussions throughout the year.”
Still the ninth-year coach knows nothing is for sure. With regular season wins over Butler, VCU and Villanova among their 21 on the season, the Explorers will go through some anxious before Sunday night.
“It’s interesting. One of the schools in our situation is Boise State, and I think he said, when he was in this situation once before, he watched every school and made himself nuts. He’s not going to do it. For the record, I’m going to make myself nuts.”
Ramon Galloway scored with 2.7 seconds to go as La Salle knocked off then no. 9 Butler, 54-53 on January 23rd. It was La Salle’s first win over a top ten team since 1980.
“I certainly hope they end up making the NCAA Tournament because they’d be a hard matchup,” noted Butler head coach Brad Stevens. “Hard team to play. Hard to guard those guys…We’re better two months later because we played La Salle twice.”
Galloway, La Salle’s leading scorer with 17 a game while hitting better than 40 percent behind the line, scored just four points Friday afternoon. Saddled with the responsibility of having to defend Butler’s leading point-getter, Rotnei Clarke, Galloway hit just one field goal in ten including going zero-for-seven behind the arc.
“When you come this far with a first team All-Conference guy, you’re not changing at the last second,” Giannini explained. “At any moment he could make four or five in a row…I certainly wouldn’t fault his effort in this game at all. I think he played really hard. If anything, he might have tried to hard.”
After trailing by two at half, the Explorers hit just 29 percent from the floor in the second half.
“We lost to very good team,” Giannini stated. “Their defense had a lot to do with our frustrations.”
After winning 21 games last year, the Explorers went to the NIT for the first time since 1991.
The Explorers played Friday without forward Steve Zack. The sophomore averages better than six points and six rebounds in 23 minutes of playing time.
“You just live and die with every play,” Giannini added. “You know who needs to win, and you know who needs to lose. We get a break, and we end up being judged on 30 games as opposed to our last two.”