Philadelphia, Pa. -- Nearing the end of regulation in a heated matchup between La Salle and George Mason, time started to slow down.
Tyreek Duren, one of the best guards the Explorers have had in a decade, tied his pink shoelaces after leaving La Salle's final timeout huddle. In that moment, Tom Gola Arena reached a deafening pitch on Thursday night.
Duren came off a screen and was left alone in the left corner of the gym, with no one in between himself and the nylon. The backside of his gold jersey was the only visible sight from the hardwood to the bleachers. Clank.
The guard held his head in his hands as time ticked away even slower, under their newly raised banner that read "2013 Sweet 16: La Salle University." His home career was over and it came with a 59-57 loss to George Mason at the buzzer, in the middle of the night.
But the magic that La Salle had created during its memorable tournament run exactly one year ago that set a small, private Catholic university abuzz wasn’t gone. It was merely suppressed behind the guise of a 14-15 overall record.
"I thought that last shot was going in for sure," Duren said, his eyes watering as he held back tears on his senior night.
"Our team has been clicking on all cylinders … we are making strides and we are going to go into the tournament strong. I know that we can beat any team in this conference, even though we keep losing one-point games. If we turn those around, then everyone’s talking about how good we are again."
After losing Ramon Galloway last year to graduation, the Explorers' flair, the vitality that lifted them to a Sweet 16 appearance, has fizzled in the locker room. Their current senior leaders are "too poised" in the eyes of coach Dr. John Giannini.
In its previous season, La Salle won seven of its final nine contests before a first-round exit in the A-10 Tournament and then made a magical run behind Tyrone Garland’s Southwest Philly Floater that sent the Internet humming. This season, La Salle is 2-1 in its final three games before the season finale with a streaking Saint Joseph's team.
This senior class -- that will graduate four guards -- has the highest winning total in the program’s last 25 years since La Salle’s Lionel Simmons graced the court in the '80s, became the Naismith Player of the Year and the No. 7 overall pick in the 1990 NBA Draft.
As far as Giannini is concerned, it’s all about the close games the Explorers have lost. The entire team believes that it can still create the same type of March magic.
"It’s a tiny difference between this season and last season," Giannini said. "We were 7-1 in close games last season and 1-4 this year. You can’t lose focus. You can’t do those things."
And his plan to fix the team and make another tournament run? It’s simple, at least in the eyes of Giannini.
"Just win one more play," Giannini said. "It’s one more rebound, one time not falling asleep on a screen, one time remembering how to execute a set, one more 50-50 rebound. We are very close.
"The lesson is every play, every second of every practice and every game matters tremendously. It’s a relentlessness."