This has been an erratic season for the La Salle Explorers thus far. After a strong opening stretch to the season going 4-1, the Explorers have not won a game since defeating Rowan on November 28th. However, they are currently struggling through a 6 game losing streak, most recently to the UMass Minutemen by a score of 74-67. While the Explorer’s shining star has been Jordan Price, who ranks among the NCAA’s leaders with 22.8 points per game, guard Cleon Roberts has enjoyed success this season as the secondary scoring option (12.9 points per game). Because opposing defenses typically put their top wing defender on Price and the next-best perimeter defender on Johnnie Shuler, the Explorers best ball-handling guard, Roberts finds himself with either open looks or favorable matchups during many games. This was definitely the case on New Year's Eve. Although the shorthanded La Salle squad was not able to prevail in Dunk City, Cleon Roberts had an excellent game, scoring a career high 30 pts.
Traveling down to South Florida was a sort of homecoming for Roberts, who hails from Miami-Norland High School right across the state from Ft. Myers. In fact, Florida Gulf Coast University recruited Roberts, prior to his commitment to Georgia Southern in 2012. Roberts must have felt comfortable in the FGCU gym as many of his family and friends were in attendance, along with the current Miami-Norland boy’s basketball team, cheering on their alum.
Getting Roberts involved in the offense must have been in the Explorers’ game plan. After Roberts passed up a really good look at a 3-point shot early in the game that resulted in the Explorers’ second turnover in a row, La Salle’s head coach Dr. John Giannini turned to his bench and exclaimed, “I’m begging him to shoot! I’m begging him to shoot!” During a subsequent timeout, Roberts must have gotten the message because by the 11:47 mark of the first half, Roberts had 9 points on 3-4 shooting (2-2 on 3 point shots).
At the post-game press conference, when asked whether he was glad Roberts was leaving, FGCU’s head coach Joe Dooley affirmed, “No doubt.”
On January 3rd, La Salle dropped their sixth game in a row to UMass. Despite a pedestrian stat line; 11 points on 25% shooting from the field, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals and 3 turnovers, Roberts continued to take on a bigger role in the offense. He tied Jordan Price with a team-high 16 field goal attempts against UMass and his usage percentage of 26.6 was second on the team, behind Price’s 33.1%. On defense, Roberts did a laudable job containing his matchup, star sophomore guard Donte Clark, who only shot 3-15 from the field and racked up 5 turnovers over the course of the game.
If there is one critique of Robert’s recent play it has been his inability to defend without fouling, as he has 8 fouls over the past two games. This could be due in part to his thin body type. Although Roberts stands a solid 6-foot-5, his lanky 175lbs frame is a disadvantage against some of the beefier Division 1 small forwards that he faces. Finishing games with a strong defensive effort down the stretch is difficult when you are only one foul away from fouling-out, as has been the case for Roberts the past couple of games.
As the La Salle Explorers look to turn their season around in 2016, Cleon Roberts’s play will be critical to the team’s success. If he can replicate his recent efforts (without fouling), the tandem of him on the wing with Jordan Price will cause some serious issues for opponent’s defenses. Despite the recent losses, putting up 30 points against a solid Div. 1 mid major opponent in FGCU should give Roberts some confidence to know that he can have a big game like this and put up numbers that match his star teammate. On January 6th Roberts has a chance to build upon his recent success as Atlantic-10 conference play continues for the Explorers against Fordham.
Photo: (H. Rumph Jr./AP)
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament