PHILADELPHIA — Tyrone Garland calls it the “Southwest Philly Floater.”
Just a little scoop layup crafted on the Philadelphia playgrounds and perfected in Kansas City.
Garland’s shot with the catchy nickname has the La Salle Explorers floating all the way to the NCAA tournament’s round of 16. The Explorers may not be the most unlikely team to advance to the second weekend — hello, Florida Gulf Coast — but they are clearly in the best position to make a deeper run.
The Explorers haven’t been this far in the tournament in five decades. May as well stick around and see how far the fun lasts.
No one wants the tournament to stop at La Salle. Students at the small Catholic university rushed the court at Tom Gola Arena where they watched the 13th-seeded Explorers beat Mississippi 76-74 on the big screen, then hit the streets outside campus where the partying, moshing, and hollering continued for hours.
Can you blame them?
None of Philadelphia’s six Division-I basketball programs had a longer tournament drought than the Explorers. The last time the upstart Explorers got this far, the NCAA tournament didn’t even have a round of 16. Tom Gola, a three-time All-America, led the program to consecutive trips to the NCAA championship game in 1954 and 1955. The Explorers won the 1954 national championship and then, almost nothing after ‘55. They won a single tournament game in 1983 and in 1990 and hadn’t returned for a dose of March Madness since 1992.
All of that futility has been forgotten, if not forgiven, during this three-game tournament winning streak that has them playing ninth-seeded Wichita State on Thursday night in Los Angeles. The Shockers took out top-seeded Gonzaga to form this unlikely pairing in the West Regional.
The Shockers, however, are in the round of 16 for the first time since 2006.
The Explorers have won more tournament games in the last week than they have in the last 58 years combined.
“We talked all week about the great La Salle tradition,” coach John Giannini said. “When you come in, you want to bring that back. These guys are doing it right before our eyes.”
With one giant thrill along the way.
Ole Miss led 74-72 with 1:58 left and enough time to pad their lead, it just didn’t happen. On their last possession, the Explorers brought the ball up court, with most everybody expecting Ramon Galloway to take the shot. Garland instead took a pass from just above the 3-point arc, split two defenders on a drive down the lane, and scooped the ball in off the glass for the winner.
The Rebels’ last-gasp heave was short and hundreds of La Salle fans at the Sprint Center went wild.
And a catchphrase was born.
Garland causally mentioned the name of his shot in the postgame TV interview and it took off on Twitter.
“They call it on the playground, when you see a big defender, just lay the ball up and they call it a Southwest Floater,” he said. “I just was hearing that as I was growing up playing in the playgrounds.”
He later tweeted, “Thanks for the love everybody love y’all and thanks for making the SW floater famous.”
With his wide smile, headband and dreadlocks, Garland has been one of the early stars of a tournament stuffed with upsets and new faces. Galloway also tweeted a link to buy a yellow T-shirt with dreads over a basketball and the “Southwest Philly Floater” name.
He had an outstanding career at Philadelphia’s John Bartram High and was a two-time, first team, Class 4A All-State selection. He decided to leave home and attend Virginia Tech. But he barely played and decided to transfer back to his home city. Because of Garland and Galloway, the Explorers have defeated Boise State 80-71 in the First Four and followed that up with a 63-61 win over No. 4 seed Kansas State.
“It’s a wonderful story,” Galloway said. “It’s just great to play for La Salle, uplift the La Salle community again.”
With Villanova and Temple eliminated on the first weekend, it’s up to the Explorers to continue to represent a city with deep basketball roots.
The signs were there they could pull this off when they beat Butler and VCU just days apart. Who knew, that was just the beginning.
”I don’t know how to feel because I never been here,” Galloway said. “I can say it’s the greatest feeling, but I don’t know right now.”