They filled the Tom Gola Arena on Sunday night to watch the La Salle Explorers play halfway across the country for a chance to advance to the NCAA men’s basketball tournament’s Sweet Sixteen round.
And when hundreds of students saw that very thing happen, courtesy of a 76-74 victory over the Ole Miss Rebels, they flooded the court.
Then, they took to the intersection of 20th St. and Olney Ave. in a celebration that blocked traffic for more than an hour. (And no, Philly-fan critics, there wasn’t a need for police intervention beyond clearing the street after a while, according to a department spokeswoman.)
There, some ecstatic fans took the time to talk about what this unexpected run, for which Tyrone Garland’s game-winning shot with 2.5 second remaining has already taken on the “Southwest Philly Floater” moniker, means for students, alumni and the school itself.
“To some, we may have been the underdogs, but we knew how good they were,” said junior Justin Singson. “I’ve never seen so much school spirit. Their teamwork is almost effortless. They know how to come together, which brings us [the fans] together.”
Singson called the players “role models not just within the university but also the community.”
“The fact that the guys on the team know students and faculty creates a sense of community,” he continued. “You know them and they know you.”
Khalid Annasabi, also a junior, agreed that players and fans have bonded at a school with fewer than 8,000 undergrads.
That the team has continued to get better at the season’s most-important juncture only strengthened a bond that takes on added resonance considering the school does not feature another big-ticket sport.
“The basketball team replaced the need of having a football team,” said Annasabi.
After the Sunday night game, one could hear the screams and cheers echoing throughout the campus.
Next game: Thursday night
Don’t expect the enthusaism to die anytime soon, either.
In its first Sweet Sixteen appearance since 1957, the 13th seeded Explorers will face the 9th-seed Wichita State Shockers. Tipoff at the Staples Center in Los Angeles is scheduled for 10:17 p.m. Thursday.
NewsWorks will cover the Explorers’ run as it continues deeper into March Madness.