The Explorers could have made a loud statement to the NCAA tournament selection committee with a win over Butler in the Atlantic 10 quarterfinals Friday. But after a 69-58 loss to the finally healthy Bulldogs, they remain teetering on the bubble.
"There's no question if we win today, we're in," coach John Giannini said. "And now, frankly, we might be at the mercy of others a little bit."
La Salle (21-9) beat fellow bubble team Villanova in nonconference play but lost to Central Connecticut State and Bucknell.
During the A-10 season, the Explorers won at VCU, currently ranked 25th. And they defeated Butler by a point at home when Rotnei Clarke was injured.
Giannini said he didn't think he needed to lobby for La Salle's first NCAA bid since 1992.
"I don't even think I should," he said. "Our record speaks for itself."
Clarke scored 14 points Friday to lead five Bulldogs in doubles figures. Khyle Marshall had 13 points, and Andrew Smith added 11 points and eight rebounds for fifth-seeded Butler, which faces regular-season champ Saint Louis in Saturday's semifinals.
Clinging to a one-point lead early in the second half, the Bulldogs went to work inside. Smith scored in the paint, Marshall had a dunk, and Kameron Woods completed a three-point play after a putback.
The 11-2 run gave Butler (26-7) a double-digit lead, and the Bulldogs held off fourth-seeded La Salle the rest of the way.
"Certainly adding Rotnei helps, but the other difference (was) I thought our four spot played great, both Kyle and Kam, really," Butler coach Brad Stevens said.
Woods had 10 points and nine rebounds off the bench.
"He's an extra spark for us when he comes in," Clarke said. "He's all over the boards. He makes all the energy plays, effort plays."
Tyreek Duren led the Explorers with 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting. Jerrell Wright had 14 points and 11 rebounds.
Leading scorer Ramon Galloway shot 1 for 10 and finished with four points and four turnovers.
"Depending on how other teams do, I think we belong in the NCAA tournament," Duren said. "Any way you look at it, this isn't our last game."
Butler shot just 3 for 15 from behind the 3-point arc, but the Bulldogs were 25 for 42 on 2-point attempts. They outscored the Explorers 42-24 in the paint and outrebounded them 41-23.
Clarke missed the first meeting with La Salle because of a severely sprained neck. The Explorers won that one 54-53 on Jan. 23 on a last-second shot.
Butler lost both its regular-season meetings with 16th-ranked Saint Louis.
"I think Saint Louis is one of the best teams in the country," Stevens said. "I don't care where they're ranked or where they'll be seeded. Somebody who hasn't played against them—next week, they're going to say, 'Uh oh.'"