La Salle’s ‘Southwest Philly Floater’ lifts more than a basketball team to victory

    Tyrone Garland’s game-winning layup shook buildings more than 1,000 miles away.

    As the LaSalle guard and Bartram High product weaved his way to the rim inside the Sprint Center in Kansas City, Mo., sophomore Heather Mengert sat in her university apartment with friends, watching intently.

    When the “Southwest Philly Floater” dropped, Mengert said the room rumbled a bit, perhaps from the collective bliss the shot brought to the small private school’s campus along Olney Avenue.

    “The roar on campus afterwards was insane. It was electric,” said Mengert on Tuesday as she grabbed more team gear from the school’s bookstore.

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    A historic victory

    Sunday night’s 76-74 win over the University of Mississippi was the school’s third in five days, in La Salle’s first NCAA men’s basketball tournament appearance in 21 years.

    Following the final buzzer, students spilled into the streets to celebrate the team’s Sweet 16 birth, the first since 1955.

    By Monday afternoon, the campus showed no signs of the impromptu rally, which blocked the intersection of 20th St. and Olney Ave.

    The excitement of the win, however, hadn’t left the hearts of the LaSalle community.

    Alumni reaction

    “I didn’t sleep very much after the game I was so excited,” said Paul Burgoyne, president of the LaSalle’s alumni association. “It’s the 150th anniversary of the university and we had a lot of excellent planned events and the basketball team has supplied some really terrific unplanned events.”

    Burgoyne, who graduated in 1970, was at home when Garland drove to the basket with fewer than three seconds left in the then-tied game.

    “When the ‘Southwest Philly Floater’ went in I’m sure I screamed and woke my wife up,” said Burgoyne, who will head to Los Angeles for the team’s next game against Wichita State. “I’m sure the walls rattled.”

    The Explorers, a 13 seed, will take on the Shockers, a 9 seed, Thursday night. Tipoff is scheduled for just after 10:15 p.m.

    Explorers gear flying off the shelves

    In the meantime, La Salle merchandise sales are “off the hook,” said Mark Allan, general manager of La Salle’s bookstore.

    “This is a place that has a lot of school spirit to begin with, you see people wearing LaSalle all over campus generally, but now it’s just insane,” said Allan. “It’s sick. It’s ill.”

    Freshman Trans Lualhati, who was wearing a LaSalle track jacket Monday, is confident the team, the only Philadelphia-area team left dribbling, will find a way to win. The team, he explained, has the “mysterious momentum” that all tournament underdogs ride to victory.

    “I know for a fact that we’re going to roll over them,” said Lualhati as he ate lunch inside the school’s student center.

    Former coach weighs in

    William “Speedy” Morris, who helmed La Salle’s basketball program for more than 15 years, shared Lualhati’s sentiment, calling this year’s squad a team of “destiny.”

    “I’m a little surprised, but now watching them play it wouldn’t be farfetched for them to win [against Wichita State],” said the legendary coach.

    Win or lose, junior Shanice Johnson will see the season as a giant success.

    “It puts LaSalle on the map,” she said.

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