ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Four days after losing to Temple in their season finale, the La Salle Explorers booked themselves a return engagement with the Owls after defeating Duquesne, 82-79, in the first round of the Atlantic Ten Conference Tournament Wednesday night.
The seventh-seeded Explorers, who were crushed, 85-66, by visiting Temple Saturday, erased a seven-point deficit to sneak past No. 10 Duquesne in their opening round game at Boardwalk Hall.
The Explorers (15-16) closed the game out with three free throws after senior guard Darnell Harris drained a 27-foot three-pointer to tie the game at 79 with under a minute remaining.
“I shoot those kinds of shots all the time in practice,” said Harris, who finished with 21 points.
The Explorers were lead by sophomore Rodney Green’s 22 points, while Duquesne (17-13) was jumpstarted by senior Reggie Jackson’s 29-point performance.
In a fast-paced contest where both teams pushed the ball up court on nearly every possession, La Salle trailed for the better part of the second half.
After a crucial defensive lapse earlier in the second stanza, Harris assured his coach that he would come through for La Salle down the stretch.
“He just looked me in the eye and said, ‘Hey, I’ll win this game. Just put me in the [right] position,” La Salle coach John Giannini said.
Once the Explorers grabbed the lead, Duquesne looked to Jackson to get them back in the game. But the 5-foot-10 senior was bottled up late, unable to hit a shot in the game’s closing seconds.
“It’s great to get not only a win, but a dramatic win when we had to get a couple of big stops at the end,” Giannini said.
With the victory, the Explorers advance to the A-10 quarterfinals for the first time since 2005. La Salle last reached the A-10 semi-finals in 2002, when they fell to Richmond.
To get there, La Salle will have to figure out a Temple team that boasts multiple offensive options. In addition to the “one-two punch” of senior Mark Tyndale and junior Dionte Christmas, Temple boasts a “supporting group as good as any in the conference right now,” Giannini said.
Against La Salle, one of those supporting players, senior guard Chris Clark, scored a career-high 22 points. Three other Owls –Tyndale, Christmas and junior center Sergio Olmos – finished in double-figures to help Temple cruise to an easy victory.
“That was as devastating of a loss as we’ve had this season,” Giannini said. “It was Senior Day and we got destroyed – and quickly … We’re excited to ourselves another chance [against Temple].”
Harris, who scored a team-high 26 points in the loss to Temple, was blunter in his response.
“It’s a payback game.”
Tyson McCloud can be reached at Tyson@temple.edu.