La Salle’s 5-10 record has not given much for Explorer fans to be excited about this season. They often play low-risk zone defenses, have additionally slowed down their offensive pace to a painstakingly boring rate, and get out rebounded almost every game. Despite this, La Salle has produced big wins against Towson and Dayton. In these moments of prosperity, three factors have been nailed down as keys to the Explorers success.
One key to success for the Explorers is playing with the lead. La Salle is 5-2 when leading at the half and 0-8 when trailing. The reason it is important for the Explorers to play with the lead has to do with their adapted playing style. With only six scholarship players available for Dr. Giannini to use for their six most recent games, the Explorers have been forced to play at an extremely low-tempo brand of offensive basketball. Playing with the lead, this style can be effective. Turnover numbers are low and subsequently opponents are unable to produce many fast break points or points off turnovers. When they have the lead, the Explorers are able to milk the clock, get one or two looks at a shot and then settle back into their half-court defense. The downside to playing like this is the lack of ball or player movement throughout the possession, which is has partially caused their 39% shooting percentage from the field, second to last in A-10 conference play. If La Salle hopes to enjoy any more success this season, it is essential for them to start games off strong and not dig themselves into a first-half deficit.
Another key to success for La Salle is containing their opponent’s big men. With the Explorers only playing with one healthy true frontcourt player right now in Tony Washington, this is much easier said than done. A look at the point and rebound numbers from La Salle’s opponent’s top frontcourt players may correspond to their success:
Rhode Island (L), Kuran Iverson, 12 points, 12 rebounds
Richmond (L), Terry Allen, 26 points, 16 rebounds
Dayton (W), Dyshawn Pierre, 12 points, 4 rebounds
Fordham (L), Ryan Rhoomes, 25 points, 18 rebounds
UMASS (L), Seth Berger, 15 points, 7 rebounds
FGCU (L), Antravious Simmons, 17 points, 10 rebounds
Miami (L), Tonye Jekiri, 10 points, 14 rebounds
Villanova (L), Daniel Ochefu, 6 points, 10 rebounds
Drexel (L), Rodney Williams, 14 points, 13 rebounds
Hofstra (L), Denton Koon, 12 points, 10 rebounds
Rowan (W), Dan Brogan, 2 points, 2 rebounds
Penn (L), Darien Nelson-Henry, 31 points, 14 rebounds
Lafayette (W), Matt Klinewski, 23 points, 4 rebounds
Rider (W), Xavier Lundy, 19 points, 4 rebounds
Towson (W), Timajh Parker-Rivera, 8 points, 8 rebounds
As shown by the list, opposing big men have gotten the better of La Salle’s paper-thin frontcourt. Over La Salle’s 15 games, they have conceded 8 double-doubles to frontcourt players. Not one of them happened during a game that La Salle won. For La Salle to scrape together some more wins this season, they will have to contain their opponent’s big men and keep the ball out of their defensive paint. Although Washington is certainly a capable interior presence, the Explorers’ opponents have been able to get him into foul trouble and keep him on the bench. In conference play, Washington is averaging four fouls a game. Saturday against Rhode Island, Washington was only able to stay on the floor for a total of 13 minutes before fouling out. This is a real problem for the Explorers and the only foreseeable ending to this is getting Yevgen Sakhniuk back and healthy to be a viable spell option to Washington. Sakhniuk was expected to be the successor to Jerrell Wright and Steve Zack in the Explorer’s frontcourt. In the first few games of the season, Sakhiuk had played reasonably well. He has put up per 40 numbers of 19.8 points and 6.1 rebounds on 74% from the field and an offensive rating of 105.5 per 100 possessions. However, an undisclosed sickness has kept Sakhniuk out the past six games. For the Explorers to make more noise during A-10 conference play, the return of Sakhniuk and the containment of the opponent’s big men is essential.
The third key to success for La Salle is strong play from homegrown product and La Salle College High School’s own Amar Stukes. As Stukes has struggled during the first half of the season, many Explorer fans have considered him to be over-recruited as a starting point guard in the tough Atlantic 10 conference. Stukes is averaging 4.9 points and 3 assists per game and has held an offensive rating per 100 possessions of 78.9, worst on the team among La Salle’s regular rotation players. However, in the past five games that the Explorers were the victors, Stukes has averaged 7.6 points and 4.6 assists per game, a noticeable improvement. While Stukes may be better served as a backup point guard rather than a starter, due to the current state of the Explorer’s roster, he will have to suffice for Dr. Giannini the rest of the season. Dr. Giannini has done a good job of not relying on him to do too much. Stukes’ struggles is highlighted by his 14% 3-point shooting, yet he still keeps defenders honest in guarding him on the perimeter by putting up 1.4 3-point shots per game. However, La Salle will need Stukes to play tough for the rest of the season for them to find more success.
As the La Salle Explorers embark on the second-half of their 2015-2016 season, there is certainly a recipe for their success that needs to be followed. They will need to start games off strong, contain their opponent’s big men, and get strong play from Amar Stukes. If La Salle can combine all three of these factors, they will find some more wins this season. However, without realizing these three keys to success, it will be a long spring for the La Salle men’s basketball team and Explorers’ fans alike.
Photo: David Swanson/Philly.com
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament