By Joseph Santoliquito
Dayton, OH (CBS)—Everything always came so easily to Tyrone Garland on a basketball court. He always seemed to move faster than everyone else—especially with the ball in his hands at Bartram High School, with his trademark headband and his dreadlocks bouncing off the back of his neck in his wake.
It’s why it was so confusing that Garland would feel lost on a basketball court. So unnatural. But that’s what it felt like for Garland two years at Virginia Tech. He left uncomfortable on the court, a place that always held a high comfort zone for him.
Sometimes ability doesn’t always translate into success in some situations. That’s what happened to Garland. Something had to change—he had to come back home.
Garland couldn’t have felt more at home on a basketball court than he did on its grandest stage last night—in the NCAA Tournament. The junior transfer was his same explosive self that he had been at Bartram, exploding through Boise State for a team-high 22 points and leading the Explorers to their first NCAA Tournament victory in 23 years, with a 80-71 victory over Boise State in a West Region first-round game at Dayton Arena.
The No. 13 seed Explorers will now advance to the second round to play No. 4 Kansas State on Friday in Kansas City, Missouri.
It also marked the first time La Salle won an NCAA tourney game since the Lionel Simmons-led Explorers beat Southern Mississippi, 79-63, in 1990. And it came on two major occasions in La Salle history: The last and only time La Salle won an NCAA national title, when the Tom Gola-led Explorers beat Bradley, 92-76, on March 20, 1954, and on the 150th anniversary of La Salle’s founding.
The wait for Explorer fans for La Salle to appear in an NCAA Tournament game may have felt like it lasted 150 years.
But prime shooting helped erase that wait. Against Boise State, La Salle shot a season-best 63-percent from the floor.
“Jerrell Wright really helped us inside, he’s a wonderful player, but it was our guards against theirs and our guards had the upper hand,” La Salle coach John Giannini said. “They made plays, they defended. They shared the ball. Our guards are really hard to defend. We have good guards. That was evident tonight.”
No guard shined more brightly than Garland. He shot 9 of 11 from the floor and nailed 2 of 4 three pointers. But perhaps no points were more important than the two free throws Garland hit with 1:10 left to play that gave the Explorers a 76-68 lead.
“When I first transferred, Coach told me it could be like this and we could do special things. So for me seeing it happen, and he’s always been a loyal guy, and I believe in his word, I wasn’t even shocked when we started winning games and making it to the tournament,” Garland said. “This is what he told me was going to happen, and I just believe in this guy, and I just thank him for giving me the opportunity to play.”
Prior to Garland’s free throws, La Salle had missed a pair of free throws and a shot, as Boise State pulled to within 74-68 on a Derrick Marks’ jumper with 1:53 left to play.
“I recruited Ty really, really hard out of high school, and I told him this is why I chased you all over the place, to win NCAA Tournament games and see be a great player and I knew he could do it.” Giannini said.
With 15:27 left in the first half, La Salle took an 8-6 lead on a Sam Mills three-pointer and never trailed again. Boise State led twice, 4-2 and 6-5, then the Explorers took over. D.J. Peterson’s layup with 9:48 left in the half gave the Explorers a 22-12 lead.
La Salle exploded to shoot 73-percent in the second half, the highest shooting percentage in a half of an NCAA Tournament game in five years, with Garland and Ramon Galloway combining for 43 points on 17 of 24 shooting.
“It means a lot, it sums up the whole year, we worked hard to get here,” Galloway said. “We’re actually making a statement. We just didn’t get selected. We want to make a run. We want to show everybody that La Salle could play with the best teams in the country.”