On Thursday Dec. 31st the La Salle Explorers will travel down to Ft. Myers, Florida to play the Eagles of Florida Gulf Coast University. In 2013, La Salle and FGCU both went to the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Tournament and have been unsuccessful in their efforts to return to the tournament since then. This season, the programs have shared disappointing slow starts. However, a win on New Year's Eve would bring either team to an even .500 record to begin the 2016 calendar year, with La Salle at 4-5 and FGCU at 6-7 to start the season.
One key matchup to watch for on Thursday will be the battle between sophomore guards Johnnie Shuler and Christian Terrell. Terrell is the second leading scorer on the FGCU team with 14.8 points per game. He is shooting a solid 39 percent from the three-point line and is second on the team in offensive rating per 100 possessions with 113.4.
La Salle’s Johnnie Shuler leads the team in assists per game with 3.1 and is third on the team in scoring with 10.3 points per game. Shuler should be aggressive in attacking Terrell off the dribble. Although he has improved his defense from last season, Terrell struggles when opponents dribble drive against him. In FGCU’s most recent matchup against South Dakota, Terrell’s defensive assignment was Casey Kasperbauer, who managed to put up 31 points in the contest. During the waning moments of the overtime period, South Dakota scored on seemingly every possession, and it was Terrell either getting blown by off the dribble, or standing under the basket on the back end of an opponent's layup. Look for Johnnie Shuler to come right at Terrell on Thursday to take some pressure off of Jordan Price.
Speaking of Price, his matchup with Marc-Eddy Norelia will be another key factor in this game. Both players are the leading scorers on their team (Price with 22.6 points per game, Norelia with 15.5 points per game). What will be interesting about this matchup is the contrasting styles of play. Price is a perimeter player who does his damage either from the 3-point line or off the dribble. Norelia on the other hand, is an interior power forward, with a post game that manufactures tough baskets. He additionally complements his big man presence with a nice mid-range game. Although he is an interior minded power forward, Norelia is an athletic marvel and it will be interesting to see how he contains Price.
If Norelia is up to the task and can keep Price from finding a shooting rhythm, it will be hard for La Salle to stay with the Eagles. This is because they will have to contain Norelia, who should be able to take La Salle to town on the low block and take advantage of La Salle's soft inside defense.
A third key matchup heading into this game is between the two European forwards that come off the bench for their respective teams; Yevgen Sakhniuk hailing from Ukraine and Filip Cvjeticanin from Croatia. FGCU is the third best team in the nation at defending the 3-point shot and because of this, La Salle will need to punch the ball inside to create some room for Price, Shuler, and Cleon Roberts on the perimeter. This could set up Sakhniuk to have a productive game off the bench and use his crafty interior scoring skills to generate some offense for La Salle. Sakhniuk’s matchup in Cvjeticanin is a 6-9 catch-and-shoot 3-point specialist. Although Cvjeticanin has struggled this season to find his shot consistently (34% from three), he is the type of player that can get super hot out of nowhere and make multiple 3-pointers in a row. Considering how Cvjeticanin hasn’t made multiple baskets in a game since November 23, he is due for a hot shooting stretch.
Ultimately, Thursday’s game will come down to how well FGCU executes defensively against Price and Shuler. If those two are able to get into a scoring rhythm and the team collectively shoots well from the perimeter, La Salle will have an opportunity to begin the New Year on a high note. However, if FGCU is able to contain Price and Shuler, while controlling the defensive boards and limiting their own turnovers, FGCU will prevail at home in this matchup.
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In the 64th all-time meeting between Villanova and La Salle, ‘Nova came out on top in a 76-47 drubbing at the Pavilion. Nova didn’t miss a beat after losing their first game of the season at the hands of 7th ranked Oklahoma this past Monday.
The Big 5 matchup started off fast with both teams trading baskets early on but the Explorers’ early turnovers and lackluster shooting from the field would allow Nova to take a 15 point lead into halftime.
The Wildcats would run La Salle out of the building with their great three point shooting percentage (13-28/46.4%), led in part by Josh Hart and Jalen Brunson, who both finished the game with 3 three pointers. ‘Nova’s unselfish play and constant ball movement also let them record 24 assists.
Hart led all scorers with 18 points, in addition to 6 rebounds, 2 assists, and 1 steal, while Ryan Arcidiacono posted 14 points and 7 assists for the Wildcats. Jordan Price led La Salle in scoring with 16 points and Johnnie Shuler filled the stat sheet with 11 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists and 3 steals.
Next up for Nova is 10th ranked Virginia, while La Salle will take on 17th ranked Miami.
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The La Salle Explorers had a great opportunity to notch their fifth win of the season Saturday afternoon against a winless Drexel team in front of their home crowd. However, the Explorers struggled in many important facets of the game, which resulted in a 66-53 Drexel win.
For the Drexel Dragons, the player of the game was definitely Tavon Allen. Offensively, Allen was extraordinarily efficient, scoring 25 points on 7-11 shooting from the field, 3-3 from the 3 point arc, and 8-8 from the free throw line. Allen’s 3-point proficiency was important for Drexel, as he was the only Dragon to make a 3-point shot for the entire game. It wasn’t just the offense that stood out for Tavon Allen in this game. He also did a formidable job of covering La Salle’s top scorer in Jordan Price, holding him to 19 points on 36% shooting from the field and forcing Price to commit 5 turnovers.
When Jordan Price was not on his “A” game, La Salle needed Johnnie Shuler or Cleon Roberts to carry the load offensively. Against Drexel, Shuler was not able to produce the kind of day that was needed for them to be victorious, scoring 7 points on a 1-6 shooting night. Roberts additionally struggled, putting up 4 turnovers and shooting 4-10.
Three issues that hampered La Salle was their high number of turnovers (17), getting out rebounded 41-32, and uncharacteristic weak free throw shooting (55.6%).
The turnover problem needs to be addressed by head coach Dr. John Giannini. Heading into Saturday's game, La Salle already was averaging 13 turnovers a game. It is logical to think that coach G would have made keeping possession of the ball a priority against Drexel. Whether it was a lack of focus, or execution, the Explorers did not make the most out of their possessions, leading to 17 team turnovers.
Another issue that the Explorers had on Saturday was getting outrebounded 41-32 by the Drexel Dragons. In the postgame press conference coach G said, “I think Drexel is hard to score on, I think they’re big.” To combat Drexel’s size, coach G played sophomore-forward Tony Washington a season-high 25 minutes. The addition of Washington was supposed to help the Explorers from being outmatched on the boards, but there was not much Washington could do apart from his 4 total rebounds.
It is curious as to why coach G does not give more frontcourt time to sophomore Yevgen Sakhniuk, who played only 5 minutes on Saturday. Although he is still adjusting to the college game, it looks like Sakhniuk is a bit more competent offensively than both Tony Washington and Rohan Brown. Coach G deems Washington’s athleticism and Brown’s experience as more valuable to the rotation that what Sakhniuk can provide offensively. But, if the Explorers continue to struggle on the boards, coach G should consider giving Sakhniuk more minutes in the rotation.
The third issue the Explorers had on Saturday against Drexel was their poor free throw shooting. On the season, La Salle was shooting 76.8% from the line before Saturday’s game, good enough for 18th place in NCAA Division 1. On Saturday, La Salle shot 55.6% on their free throws. Either the performance against Drexel performance was a bit of a fluke or the Explorer's shooting is starting to plateau after starting out so hot and will begin to replicate last year’s number of 69.4% from the line. Either way, expect coach G needs to get his guys refocused this week for a better free throw shooting game their next outing.
The Explorers have now lost two games in a row and three of their last four games heading into their next City 6 matchup against Villanova. If La Salle has any prayer of challenging one of the nation’s elite college basketball programs, they will need to make the most of their possessions by taking care of the ball, competing on the glass, and regaining their exceptional free throw shooting. If La Salle can do all of this and continue to see good games from both Jordan Price and Johnnie Shuler, they have what it takes to compete in this game. However, if La Salle’s execution against Villanova mirrors their game against Drexel, the Explorers will be in for a long game.
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