How a team meeting became a turning point for the La Salle basketball team

GREEN TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- La Salle basketball coach Dan Fleming stood two flights of stairs beneath Bill Cady Court and didn’t mince words.

The first Friday in February had been understandably intense during La Salle’s 18th game of the winter.

The standing-room-only crowd made the air feel humid inside on a below-seasonal temperature evening outside. GCL basketball at its finest.

Moeller silenced the home crowd with a win for the first time at La Salle in more than three years.

The Crusaders hampered La Salle’s shooting to just 20 percent in the first half. Moeller senior guard Keegan McDowell had a game-high 17 points.

Fleming’s postgame perspective was anything but warm and fuzzy. La Salle had just lost to Moeller for a second time in three weeks.

La Salle head coach Dan Fleming during the Lancers regional game against Springfield on Wednesday. (Tony Tribble/WCPO Contributor)

The thing was the Lancers weren’t even close despite what the score indicated.

But the greater concern was the fact the longtime coach didn’t know whether to place the onus on himself or the players.

"We’re just not very good right now," Fleming said after the 47-41 loss. "We have a good record. We are better than a lot of teams. But I think we are underachieving.”

It wasn’t just that particular game either. La Salle defeated Walnut Hills the previous weekend and didn’t play well despite the win. The Lancers also gave up 50 points in an overtime win at McNicholas a few days later.

The Lancers called a team meeting that Sunday afternoon, Feb. 5 to clear the air. Fleming and the 10 players were able to get some things off their chests.

Offense had become a priority over the defense, which is a cardinal sin at La Salle.

“We just wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page,” said senior guard CJ Fleming, who is Dan’s son. “Everyone got a chance to speak and the thing that changed was practice.”

Instead of the varsity players going against the junior varsity, the upperclassmen went against each other. Guys got after it.

The rebounding improved. Circumstances started to straighten out.

“We knew we could turn it into something special and it all started from changing practice,” CJ Fleming said.

As La Salle (24-3) prepares to play Moeller (26-0) for the regional championship at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wright State’s Nutter Center, the Lancers can harken back to that team meeting as a turning point for the season.

La Salle has won nine consecutive games and hasn’t lost since Feb. 3. A lot of that has been attributed to the lack of fatigue. Exhaustion had saddled the Lancers the past few years given the number of football players in the program. With the football team winning three straight titles, those players had already endured a rigorous fall.

“We’ve been much fresher in the tournament,” said Dan Fleming, who has 445 career wins. “We’ve had a few more days off. We’ve practiced a little bit shorter.“

La Salle has battled through injuries. It’s been a trying year in some aspects.

But senior guards Tre Crigler, Tyler Richardson and Da’Meak Brandon and senior forward Joe Hartmann are among those who have helped La Salle persevere by their practice habits. The juniors have stepped up too.

“A coach can only do so much,” Dan Fleming said. “Eventually something has to come from within the team. Within this group of seniors we have good leadership.”

There will be no secrets Friday night. Both teams know each other very well. Use whatever standard line you wish about another GCL classic.

This is the third time Moeller and La Salle will play in the regional final (2011 and 2010).

Moeller was the state runner-up in 2010 and La Salle was the area’s most recent Division I state basketball champion in 2011.

The entire season boils down to Friday.

“It is going to be kind of a slugfest,” said Moeller coach Carl Kremer, who has 515 career wins. “We have tremendous respect for them but we have a lot of confidence in ourselves.”

Moeller's Miles McBride drives drives to the basket between Mason's Carlos Lewis and Matt King during the Crusaders' 60-57 win over Mason on Wednesday. (Tony Tribble/WCPO Contributor)

Moeller senior Miles McBride scored a career-high 22 points in the 60-57 win over Mason. Senior guard Caleb Canter (12 points) and junior point guard Isaiah Payton (11 points) also contributed.

Moeller also has McDowell (Liberty signee) and senior forward Riley Voss (Cornell signee) capable of making big plays.

Moeller has already clinched the program record for most wins (26). The Crusaders are ranked No. 15 nationally by MaxPreps and No. 1 in the Associated Press statewide poll.

But none of that means anything Friday night. A the cliché says, it’s all about execution.

“We will bring up the other two games just to say they mean absolutely nothing,” Kremer said. “This is not a three-game series. This is a one-game series.”

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