It’s been a great year for Earl Pettis, La Salle’s 6-foot-5 senior guard, one of the top players in the Atlantic 10 Conference and the Philadelphia Big 5 this season. Pettis led the Explorers to a 21-13 record and helped them land a spot in the NIT.
He was La Salle’s leading scorer tallying 15.2 points a game. The former Neumann-Goretti standout also received the Chris Daniels Most Improved Award from the A-10 and was named second-team All-Big 5.
The next accomplishment for Pettis will be on Sunday, May 20 when La Salle holds is commencement exercises at McCarthy Stadium. That’s where Pettis will graduate with his degree in sociology.
“I think graduating from any school, university or college is big,” Pettis said. “For me, it’s real big. It’s a blessing that I’m able to finish college and graduate on time. My major is sociology. I did a lot of papers. Actually, my last paper was 30 pages and just finished that up. It was pretty tough. I went to study hall about two hours a day until I got it done. Graduation is going to be a big day for me. I’ll have a lot of my family and friends there. They’ll all be there to support me.
Pettis had to roll his sleeves up on and off the court. He didn’t start his career at La Salle. He transferred to La Salle after spending two years at Rutgers, where he began his college career.
There’s a big commitment to being a college athlete at the Division I level with the practices, games, and classes. It takes a great deal of time and organization to stay on top of everything.
“Organizing and time management are important,” Pettis said. “When you get done practice, try to get some school work done. You don’t want to let the school work pile up. It can really take a toll on you.”
Pettis had the right formula for success. That’s what most student-athletes need to move forward. He’s a good example for a lot of young kids today who are interested in playing college sports. Pettis grew up in South Philadelphia and played basketball at the playground near 15th and Morris Streets.
Dr. John Giannini, La Salle head basketball coach, knows the importance of playing good basketball, but also the value of education. Actually, when it’s all said and done, it’s all about receiving a good education.
“It’s a great accomplishment and it lasts forever,” Giannini said. “The education never leaves you. The degree never leaves you. Everyone talks about it being able to get a good job and that’s really important. But I think equally as important is becoming an educated person. Right now, Earl is someone who has good ideas and can speak intelligently about a lot of good things. That’s what you really want out of your college experience. You want to better yourself and Earl has done a good job of that.”
Pettis has been working out in preparation for a career in professional basketball career. He’s interested in going to an NBA camp or possibly going to Europe to play professionally. Pettis has allowed basketball to provide him with a good education as well as a bright future.
When Tyreek Duren came to La Salle a year ago from Neumann-Goretti, the Explorers immediately put the ball in his hands. That was a good move. Two years ago, Duren, a 6-foot, 180-pounder, led the Saints to a Catholic League and a PIAA Class AAA state championship with an impressive 30-1 record.
He came to La Salle with great ballhandling and leadership skills. He displayed those talents right away. As a freshman, he averaged 9.8 points, 4.4 assists and 2.8 rebounds a game. He set a school record for steals by a freshman with 62. He had the second most assists (146) by a freshman and most by a La Salle player since Julian Blanks’ 164 assists in the 2001-02 season.
Duren has raised the level of his play this season. He’s averaging 13.5 points, 4.7 assists and 3.7 rebounds a game. As a result, the Explorers are on a six-game winning streak heading into tomorrow’s Atlantic 10 Conference matchup with Dayton on the road. Duren, a sophomore point guard, was ready to lead the Explorers when he arrived on campus.
“I knew things were going to work out from Day One,” Duren said. “G [Dr. John Giannini] sat me down and said I’m going to give you the ball. He said, ‘what you do with it is up to you.’ He had a talk with me now. He said, ‘I told you it was your time to have the ball. It’s your time to shine now. You have to bring me these wins.’ And that’s what I’m trying to do for him.”
Giannini knows Duren is a key player on the La Salle’s very talented 13-4 team. He has a great appreciation of his play as the team’s point guard.
“We have a lot of good players,” Giannini said. “In life we can all be replaced. Tyreek would be the most difficult guy on our team to replace because he has those very special point guard sets. He does things you can’t teach. He does things that put a team at ease. When the ball is in his hands, everybody feels better and plays better. He’s a much-improved defender. He wants to win. He wants to get better. So, I think the sky’s the limit for him.”
It looks as if La Salle has made some huge in-roads in terms of getting the top high school players in the city. Duren is a good example of that. The Explorers have another outstanding player in Jerrell Wright from Dobbins. Wright was the top player in the Public League last year. The 6-foot-8, 230-pounder, is one of the best freshmen in the Big 5. He is averaging 8.2 points and 6.6 rebounds a game.
“I talked to Jerrell a lot,” Duren said. “I told him freshman year is a learning experience. As the games go on, you’re going to learn from each situation. He’s been playing real well for us.”
Wright and Duren give the Explorers two terrific local players, but they also have Devon White (Strawberry Mansion), Ramon Galloway (Freire Charter) and Earl Pettis (Neumann-Goretti) from Philly. Next year, they will have Tyrone Garland (Bartram), who transferred to La Salle from Virginia Tech.
The Explorers opened a lot of eyes with their big victory against Xavier a week ago at Tom Gola Arena. After La Salle plays Dayton on Saturday, the Explorers will head to the Liacouras Center on Wednesday, January 18 for a big game with Temple. The Explorers seem to be building a solid program.
“It’s all defense,” Duren said. “We know we’re going to score. As long as we play good defense, everything is going to come together.”
It’s been a big year for La Salle basketball. Jerrell Wright, a former Dobbins basketball star, has been a solid contributor to the Explorers’ success. Wright’s scoring, rebounding and defense has La Salle in fourth place in the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The Explorers seem to be in good shape as the team moves toward the end of the season heading into the conference tournament with a possible NCAA tournament bid on the line. La Salle (17-6 overall, 7-3 A-10) will face Big 5 and A-10 rival Saint Joseph’s (14-9 overall, 5-5 A-10) on Saturday, Feb. 16 at the Palestra. The tipoff is at 1 p.m. Wright isn’t looking too far down the road with a lot of basketball left to play.
“We’re taking it one game at a time,” Wright said. “We’re trying to go game-by-game to reach our goals at the beginning of the year and that’s to go to the NCAA tournament.”
La Salle caught the nation’s attention with big wins this season over Butler and VCU. Those victories help to legitimize the Explorers as a team to watch in the A-10. However, Wright believes the team’s surge into prominence began last year with its trip to the NIT.
“Butler win did do it,” Wright said. “After that, we beat VCU. We didn’t want everybody to think that was a fluke. Both of those teams have been to the NCAA tournament. I’ve been watching them since high school. They’re both good caliber teams.
“I think a lot of people now are looking at us because of our season last year. We have the same team from last year and winning games. We’re getting the crowd excited. We’re beating ranked teams. I think a lot of people are noticing that now.”
Ramon Galloway has been a major player for La Salle. Galloway, ex-Freire Charter standout, is the team’s leading scorer averaging 17.3 points a game. Tyrone Garland, a former Bartram High star, comes off the bench for the Explorers. Garland is averaging 12.8 points a game.
Tyreek Duren has been a steady ballhandler for La Salle. Duren, a Neumann-Goretti product, is averaging 13.9 points, 3.4 assists and 3.0 rebounds a game. Then, Wright chips in with his contributions. He averages 10.0 points and 6.4 rebounds a game.
“Tyrone is doing real well,” said Wright, a 6-foot-8, 240-pound sophomore forward. “I always knew he could score from high school. He’s a fast paced guard. Tyreek is more like a pass first guard. He looks to get everybody involved in the game. That’s one thing that keeps our team going. We got guards that can score. We have a guard who is a pass first guard that can actually help the team out. Somebody who can get the ball down low, find guys when they get open and where they need the ball. That’s a big part of us winning right now.”
In 2011, Wright was named first team All Public League. He was selected as the Public League Player of the Year. He led Dobbins to the league playoffs. He averaged 19.9 points, 14.0 rebounds and 5.0 blocks a game. He finished his career with 1,303 points, third all-time at Dobbins behind Bo Kimble and La Salle assistant coach Horace Owens. Wright, a highly recruited player, made a great decision to play for the Explorers.
“It feels good that every game in Philly I have a huge fan base supporting me throughout the whole game and the whole year,” Wright said. “I try to go to Dobbins whenever I can to watch a few games. I keep in touch with Coach [William] Johnson.
“Whenever I go there, they usually show me a lot of love. I still know most of the students. I was just there two years ago. They still know me. I go back and talk to the teachers. I’ve known Horace [Owens] since I was growing up. We went to all of the same schools. We came from the same neighborhood. He’s helped me a lot.”
Dr. John Giannini, La Salle head coach, has made a big impact on his game. Wright has developed nicely under his tutelage.
“He makes sure the bigs [forwards and centers] are working out every day,” said Wright, who was the Big 5 Rookie of the Year last season. “He prepares us real well for each game that we play.”
The Explorers have been well prepared all season long. La Salle is coming off a 69-66 overtime win over St. Bonaventure. Wright had six points and six rebounds in that contest.
The NCAA tournament has produced a lot of great stories. But there’s none bigger than the La Salle Explorers, who have brought national attention to the school’s basketball program with their play in the tourney.
La Salle, seeded No. 13, nipped No. 12 Mississippi, 76-74, before 18,498 fans at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo. This victory has catapulted the Explorers into the NCAA Sweet 16 for the first time since 1955.
La Salle (24-9) will face Wichita State (28-8) on Thursday, March 28 in Los Angeles. The tipoff for this contest is at 10:17 p.m. on TBS. The Shockers are coming off a 76-70 win over Gonzaga to advance to the Sweet 16.
La Salle got there on Tyrone Garland’s layup down the middle of the lane with two seconds left on Sunday. Garland, former Bartram High star, came off the bench to score 17 points for the Explorers, including the game-winning shot. He was asked about the shot after the game, which he has dubbed “The Southwest Philly Floater.”
“It’s actually the Southwest Floater, not South Floater,” Garland said. “They call it on the playground, when you see a big defender, just lay the ball up and they call it a Southwest Floater. I was just hearing that as I was growing up playing in the playgrounds.”
It wasn’t any easy shot. Garland had to go down the lane and lay it up over Reginald Buckner, the Rebels’ 6-foot-9 center, who was a force around the basket.
“Before that play, we were in a timeout,” Garland said. “I asked Tyreek (Duren), ‘Is the drive from the left wing open?’ He said, ‘Yeah.’ When the time was running down, it was flat. I had a feeling I could make the drive, so I told Ramon (Galloway), ‘Switch.’
“It wasn’t even in the plans, I just told him to switch. And when Tyreek drove, like coach (Dr. John Giannini) always said, ‘Cut behind him.’ I saw the opening, I laid the ball in.”
This has been a storybook run for the Explorers. La Salle has won three consecutive games against Boise State (80-71), Kansas State (63-61) and Ole Miss respectively. Although Garland hit the winning shot, he got a lot of help from his teammates like Galloway, Duren and Jerrell Wright. Galloway had 24 points on 8-for-13 shooting from the field and 6-for-10 from three-point range. Duren had 19 points on 6-for-11 shooting from the field. Wright contributed eight points and four rebounds.
The Explorers are a true Philadelphia basketball team – Big 5 and City 6. Wright played for Dobbins where he was the Public League Player of the year. Garland was a big time player in the Public League as well. Galloway starred for Friere Charter. Duren played on all those great Neumann-Goretti teams that won the Catholic League championships.
Giannini has an outstanding assistant coach on his staff in Horace Owens who was a magnificent player at Dobbins and Rhode Island. Owens played in the Sonny Hill League and the Baker League. He knows all the top players in the city. It’s no surprise that La Salle has been able to attract some of Philly’s best players over the last few years. La Salle has something really special going on at 19th and Olney Avenue. Galloway knows it.
“As far as the game, us winning, I don’t know how to feel because I’ve never been here. I can say it’s the greatest feeling, but I don’t know right now. I’m happy. As far as family, I’m glad I can do this. I’m glad I had teammates like Ty that can win a game and Tyreek that can lead us.
“It’s just wonderful. It’s a wonderful story. It’s just great to play for La Salle, uplift the La Salle community again.”
This is La Salle’s first trip to the big dance since 1992. Twenty-one years is a long time. This tournament run has put the Explorers back on the college basketball map. If people didn’t know much about La Salle before, they do now.
“What I told them, all the clichés that coaches talk about, about toughness, getting stops, sharing the ball the way Tyreek hit Tyrone on that play, sticking together, staying positive,” Giannini said. “Those things are all true. A lot of teams do them, a lot of teams don’t. But this team has great intangibles. They are tough, they are together. Frankly, that’s why we’re here.”
La Salle has this little thing it does in the locker room after a win. A huddle of jumping players is the best way to describe it, a pogo-sticked, smiling pack of blue, if you will.
There's a chorus, as well, to the postgame bounce that goes like this: "Turn it up! Turn it up! All we do is turn it up!"
Well, the Explorers have being doing just that — and singing their hearts out — all month.
With three NCAA tournament wins already in their pocket, the Explorers — who have led a basketball renaissance that has captured this proud basketball city which houses their campus — are the talk of the town.
Turn on the radio, it's La Salle basketball. Thumb through a newspaper, it's Explorers Extra in news and sports sections. Walk down the streets, you'll see people wearing blue and gold.
Coach John Giannini is at the head of this train. It's his sense of realism and his way of getting the most out of his players that has helped to orchestrate the run. After one of those recent celebrations, he briefly settled his team before he got the exuberant bunch to holler some more as he credited several Explorers.
"We're rolling, baby," Giannini told them. "This is what you work for. We're bringing it back. Right now, we're one of the best teams in the country."
Giannini then addressed the man in the grey La Salle T-shirt, blue hat and glasses sitting alone in a locker a few feet away from the frivolity.
"With that man right there," Giannini said, pointing to his right, "they were 30-2, best record in the country. It's all coming back."
He was talking to Lionel Simmons.
Before this streak, and two decades of darkness, Simmons made the small-school Explorers a big-time program. With La Salle enjoying its deepest tournament run since the 1950s, the L-Train is back along for the ride. Simmons, the 1990 AP Player of the Year, has become a regular at La Salle's games and traveled with the team from Dayton, Ohio to Kansas City, Mo., and now Los Angeles as its biggest fan on this improbable win streak.
Simmons' presence is a blazing reminder that La Salle wasn't always one of the bottom programs in Philadelphia and invisible on the national scene. Led by Hall of Fame standout Tom Gola, the Explorers were NIT and NCAA champions in the 1950s. Paul Westhead coached them to tournaments in the 1970s. Simmons rocketed them to the national rankings in The AP poll for the final time and their last NCAA tournament win.
Indeed, La Salle's had a heyday or two.
It's the lean stretch, though, that defined the program once the L-Train followed tracks into the NBA. The Explorers had 12 straight losing seasons from 1993-2008. There was an ill-fated move to a Midwestern-based conference, and the Explorers tried to make do without an on-campus arena — an enormous handicap — the caused the program to spiral downward. La Salle bottomed out in 2004 when three players were charged with rape and both men's coach Billy Hahn and women's coach John Miller resigned, throwing the athletic program into disarray.
Enter Giannini, who led Rowan (N.J.), in the Philadelphia suburbs, to the 1996 NCAA Division III national title. Thanks to a patient administration, Giannini molded the team into a winner. He led it to the NIT last season and now the first tournament since 1992.
"The guys really believe in him and like him, and I think that's why they play hard for him," Simmons said.
Giannini has to sell La Salle recruits on his vision because there's not much else to see on campus. The Explorers don't play in a historic gym or a modern palace funded by corporate dollars. In fact, calling Tom Gola Arena an arena is a bit of a stretch. It's a gym. More like a high school gym plopped on a city campus. Gola is actually on the third floor of Hayman Center and seats only 3,400 fans. Even then, sellouts are rare. And parking is free, which is not a common thing to see anywhere in Philadelphia.
The arena's namesake, however, demands reverence.
Gola is college basketball's leading rebounder with 2,201, and led La Salle to the 1952 NIT title and 1954 NCAA championship. He was a five-time All-Star in his nine-year NBA career, which included four seasons with the New York Knicks and a championship with the Philadelphia Warriors in 1956.
Now 80, Gola lives in a nursing home and is in poor health after a serious fall in 2004 put him into a coma. He later had a stroke and has everyone connected with La Salle — and the city's rich basketball history, actually — pulling for him as much as they are the Explorers.
"He was as invincible a man as I've ever been associated with," former La Salle captain Fran Dunphy, now the coach at Temple, said. "It's been hard to take for all of us who admired him so much. We've just felt bad that he wasn't the same guy."
Gola also coached La Salle from 1968-70 and went 37-13. His 1968-69 team was 23-1 but was ineligible for postseason play because of NCAA violations that had occurred under a previous coach. When the school needed Gola to aid the program from the bench, he came through in a pinch.
"I get the sense that he wanted to be valuable to La Salle in the day," Dunphy said. "I think he valued what La Salle gave to him as a player and student, so to give back to his alma mater at a time of great need was very important to him. He wanted to do what was right.
"The greater good would always be served by Tom Gola."
Without him, La Salle made spotty postseason appearances for most of the next 20 years. But starting in 1987 under coach Speedy Morris, the program found its stride. NBA-caliber talent like Simmons, Doug Overton, Randy Woods and Tim Legler put them in the tournament four times and the NIT once from 1988-92. La Salle, which hit No. 1 in The AP poll for two weeks in both the 1952 and 1954 seasons, ended the 1989-90 season 30-2 and ranked 11th.
"We had some great players on those teams and I was just proud to be part of restoring La Salle basketball back to a nationally-known team," Legler said.
Then La Salle collapsed. The program left for the Midwestern Collegiate Conference, joining a league with Illinois-Chicago, Cleveland State, Wright State and the closest road game about 600 miles away. They left The Palestra for the Civic Center, then the Spectrum, where dreary crowds became the norm.
And some airballs on top recruits also helped to bury the program.
With Simmons rooting them on, though, the Explorers are back and busting brackets. The 13th-seeded Explorers (24-9) were one of the final teams announced when the field was announced. It was a grueling wait — for an hour, plus 21 years — that led to a raucous celebration at their watch party. La Salle and VCU (2011) are the only First Four teams to ever reach the round of 16.
The Explorers play ninth-seeded Wichita State (28-8) on Thursday night.
"As a guy that played there, you want to feel proud about what the program's doing," Legler said. "It's tough every year when March Madness rolls around and all the former players you know around the league are talking their schools in the tournament, and you've got to keep quiet."
Quiet? Not now. Former players are puffing their chest, the current ones are dancing. Heck, one fan even brought a homemade sign to a WWE event Monday night in Philadelphia that said, "Lesnar Fears La Salle."
Maybe heavyweight Brock Lesnar wouldn't want to face these Explorers. Turns out, not many teams in basketball would want to these days, either.
"It took a lot longer than we'd have liked," Simmons said. "But it makes it that much more sweeter." -- (AP)
Look out, Top 25 teams. There’s a storm warning in effect for parts of Philadelphia.
No, not because of snow or ice, just a stampede of hundreds of college hoops fans storming the court in celebration of another upset victory.
Villanova and La Salle gave their fans plenty of reasons to run. With Philadelphia teams headed toward an NCAA tournament shutout, the Wildcats and Explorers instead combined for one of the wildest weeks in Philadelphia basketball history: 4 for 4 against Top 25 teams and more students on the court than total baskets made over that span.
They’re not ranked in The Associated Press’ Top 25 poll — yet — but they’ve at least squeezed their way into NCAA tournament consideration.
As a bonus, Villanova’s wins over No. 5 Louisville and No. 3 Syracuse, and La Salle’s wins over No. 9 Butler and No. 19 VCU, injected life into a dreary Philly sports scene.
The question is was it a wonderful quirk in the schedule that won’t mean much in two months, or a spark for both teams to make the tournament field?
“We’ve got to understand that even though it’s a huge step, we’ve got to play at this level every time,” Explorers guard Ramon Galloway said. “It just can’t be that we beat Butler and we beat VCU and we come out and play trash against UMass. It can’t be that.
“Because it will look like an upset. We don’t want to have a mindset of upsetting teams. We want to have a mindset of beating teams.”
The Wildcats, a 2009 Final Four team, have made a habit of big wins under coach Jay Wright.
For the Explorers, recent decades have not been as kind. La Salle hasn’t played in the NCAA tournament since 1992 and last season’s NIT berth (21-13) was its first since 1991. La Salle’s win over Butler was its first over a Top 25 team since 2001 and first over a top 10 team since 1980.
“They’re not surprised to win,” La Salle coach John Giannini said Monday. “I know people, for reasons that I can’t comprehend, have a hard time believing that.”
Most of it stems from the lengthy absence from the tournament, the ultimate judge of a program’s success. The other five Philadelphia teams have made multiple NCAA trips since La Salle (14-5, 4-2 Atlantic 10) last played in the tournament. Giannini, who took over in 2004, has led the Explorers to two other 18-win seasons.
“We haven’t been the cellar dwellers people paint us as,” he said.
The Explorers can boast wins over two of the top Atlantic 10 teams and they beat Villanova in November (and lost to Central Connecticut State, too). Up next, Massachusetts at home on Wednesday and then Saturday at George Washington. Temple, another city team in the tournament mix, is the toughest one left on La Salle’s schedule. La Salle is 27th in RPI and Villanova 49th, according to Live-RPI.com.
“Based on our history, we know it’s way too early to worry about Bracketology,” Giannini said. “That’s a fan thing. All anyone can do at this point is be in the discussion. We’re glad we’ve done enough to be in the discussion. But a lot’s going to happen in the next five weeks.”
The Explorers haven’t won enough to earn a national ranking a spot in the March Madness field. Joe Lunardi, who has turned predicting the field into a cottage industry, said La Salle is on the bubble, but out. Even with the head-to-head win, La Salle earned one less vote than VCU (4-3) in The AP Top 25 poll. La Salle has not been ranked since it was 12th in the final poll of the 1989–90 season.
The Wildcats (13-7, 4-3) have only been out of the national rankings for two seasons. No one expected Wright’s Wildcats to tumble from a Final Four to a 19-loss season a year ago. Perhaps the only stat more shocking was pulling off back-to-back stunners against top-10 Big East team.
“This doesn’t mean we’re going to run off every game,” Wright said. “It means we have a chance to be a good team in this league.”
The Wildcats lost a shot to make it three straight wins over Top 25 teams when Notre Dame fell out of the poll on Monday. The Wildcats play Wednesday in South Bend, Ind. Lunardi will have them in the field when the updated bracket is released Tuesday.
The Wildcats, the 1985 national champions, started the fun with a 73-64 win over No. 5 Louisville at the Wells Fargo Center. Achraf Yacoubou hit the tiebreaking 3-pointer with 3:57 left that sparked a week of big baskets and students going wild on the court.
The next night, Galloway sprinted the length of the court for the winning basket with 2.7 seconds left to send La Salle to a 54-53 victory over No. 9 Butler. La Salle defeated a top 10 team for the first time since beating No. 8 Notre Dame 62-60 on Jan. 30, 1980. Yes, there was another mad rush from the bleachers at Tom Gola Arena.
Villanova and La Salle combined for the double-dip on Saturday. Ryan Arcidiacono hit the tying 3-pointer with 2.2 seconds left in regulation, and James Bell hit consecutive 3s in overtime to lift Villanova past No. 3 Syracuse, 75-71. The Explorers followed hours later with a 69-61 win at No. 19 VCU.
Galloway scored a career-high 31 points against the Rams and was named A-10 player of the week. Darrun Hilliard earned Big East honors for Villanova.
Used to the floor-storming students the second time around, Hilliard escaped to the locker room after defeating the Orange.
“First time, I was enjoying it,” he said. “Second time, I was like, I’ve got to get out of there. They get real crazy on the court.”
Maybe the Explorers and Wildcats can give them reasons to go wild again when the tournament field is set. — (AP)
NEW YORK — La Salle's coaches and players must stress until Sunday.
The Explorers could have made a loud statement to the NCAA tournament selection committee with a win over Butler in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals Friday. But after a 69-58 loss to the finally healthy Bulldogs, they remain teetering on the bubble.
"There's no question if we win today, we're in," coach John Giannini said. "And now, frankly, we might be at the mercy of others a little bit."
La Salle (21-9) beat fellow bubble team Villanova in nonconference play but lost to Central Connecticut State and Bucknell.
During the A-10 season, the Explorers won at VCU, currently ranked 25th. And they defeated Butler by a point at home when Rotnei Clarke was injured.
Giannini said he didn't think he needed to lobby for La Salle's first NCAA bid since 1992.
"I don't even think I should," he said. "Our record speaks for itself."
Clarke scored 14 points Friday to lead five Bulldogs in doubles figures. Khyle Marshall had 13 points, and Andrew Smith added 11 points and eight rebounds for fifth-seeded Butler, which faces regular-season champ Saint Louis in Saturday's semifinals.
Clinging to a one-point lead early in the second half, the Bulldogs went to work inside. Smith scored in the paint, Marshall had a dunk, and Kameron Woods completed a three-point play after a putback.
The 11-2 run gave Butler (26-7) a double-digit lead, and the Bulldogs held off fourth-seeded La Salle the rest of the way.
"Certainly adding Rotnei helps, but the other difference (was) I thought our four spot played great, both Kyle and Kam, really," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Woods had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
"He's an extra spark for us when he comes in," Clarke said. "He's all over the boards. He makes all the energy plays, effort plays."
Tyreek Duren led the Explorers with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jerrell Wright had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Leading scorer Ramon Galloway shot 1 for 10 and finished with four points and four turnovers.
"Depending on how other teams do, I think we belong in the NCAA tournament," Duren said. "Any way you look at it, this isn't our last game."
Butler shot just 3 for 15 from behind the 3-point arc, but the Bulldogs were 25 for 42 on 2-point attempts. They outscored the Explorers 42-24 in the paint and outrebounded them 41-23.
Clarke missed the first meeting with La Salle because of a severely sprained neck. The Explorers won that one 54-53 on Jan. 23 on a last-second shot.
Butler lost both its regular-season meetings with 16th-ranked Saint Louis.
"I think Saint Louis is one of the best teams in the country," Stevens said. "I don't care where they're ranked or where they'll be seeded. Somebody who hasn't played against them — next week, they're going to say, 'Uh oh.'" -- (AP)