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IN SIMMONS' CASE, MEDIA HYPE IS NOT OVERDONE

The Lionel Simmons bandwagon is getting plenty crowded these days.

ABC, ESPN, the New York Times, Dick Vitale and plenty of other national media have been singing the praises of the La Salle star all season. And rightfully so. Simmons is the 11th-leading scorer in NCAA history.

But when 18th-ranked La Salle visits the Niagara Falls Convention Center tonight (7:30, Radio 1440) for a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference meeting with Niagara, the Purple Eagles can expect more than a one-man show.

La Salle (13-1 overall, 4-0 in the MAAC) is exceptional in at least three other aspects besides Simmons:

Guard Doug Overton. The 6-foot-2 junior point man would be a major star on any other MAAC team. He is averaging 17.4 points per game, ranks 13th in the nation in steals (3.2 a game) and first in the MAAC in assists (7.2 a game).

3-point shooting. The Explorers rank 10th in the nation in 3-point goals, with a 7.7 per-game average.

Defense. La Salle has forced an average of 19.4 turnovers a game and made an average of 10.6 steals a game.

"Lionel has been great, and the supporting cast is pretty good," said La Salle coach Speedy Morris. "We have an excellent backcourt . . . our sixth man is in double figures . . . we have experience.

"Our defense is what has been the key for us. We've done a good job forcing turnovers and creating steals, and gotten a lot of easy baskets."

Joining Overton in the backcourt is sophomore Randy Woods (12.8 ppg), the top 3-point threat on the team. Jack Hurd (8.5 ppg), a 6-6 sophomore, was last year's MAAC rookie of the year and is another 3-point threat. He starts at swingman, and La Salle rotates 6-9 Milko Lieverst and 6-8 Bron Holland, the St. Bona transfer, at center.

Then there is Simmons, the 6-7 senior from Philadelphia. He is 13th in the nation in scoring (26.3 ppg) and 19th in rebounding (11.1 a game). With 2,738 career points, Simmons could finish second or third all-time.

Simmons has been under 20 points only once this year, a 15-point night against Villanova. La Salle won that one, 71-70. The Explorers also have quality non-conference wins over Florida, Ohio State, Temple and Notre Dame. Their lone loss was by 121-116 to Loyola Marymount.

"We've played some pretty good people. Getting by that schedule and being 13-1 is a pretty good feeling," Morris said.

La Salle is not a big team by Top 20 standards, and is being outrebounded by 2.7 a game.

"We haven't done a good job there," Morris said. "Size has nothing to do with it. That's the most overrated factor in basketball. You have to block out. We've never had a team minus in rebounding. We should be doing a better job at it."

Holland, whose transfer to La Salle last December was a devastating loss for the Bonnies, has been seeing more minutes the last month. He's averaging 5.8 ppg and 4.1 rpg.

Niagara stands 3-13 overall and 2-4 in the MAAC, having lost three straight since back-to-back wins over Manhattan and Loyola of Maryland. The Eagles' Pat Jones ranks fifth in the MAAC in scoring (20.1 ppg) and second in rebounding (10.1 a game).

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