In last Saturday's 84-80 win over Florida Gulf Coast, juniors Tony Washington and Demetrius Henry combined for 6 points, 7 rebounds, and 3 blocks. On paper, those numbers amount to a decent game.
But they had more than a decent game.
In the first half, FGCU managed just two points in the paint as Washington tightly guarded the combination of VCU transfer Antravious Simmons and UNLV transfer Demetris Morant. Henry played these same men when Washington came out of the game with 13 minutes left in the first half, and let up just 4 points in the paint. This wasn’t a small feat.
Coming out of high school, Simmons was ranked as the 25th best center in the country by ESPN.com and was offered scholarships from prime time schools including Alabama, Kansas State, Memphis, and Miami. He ended up signing to VCU and redshirting his freshman year so that he could gain 30 pounds. He transferred to FGCU in December of 2014 and has had success in the past against La Salle. Last year, he collected his first double-double with then-career bests of 17 points and 10 rebounds in a 9-point win.
Morant is quite the player as well. He was offered scholarships from USC, Arizona State, Memphis, UNLV, and San Diego State. He also redshirted his first year at UNLV and decided to transfer in August of 2014 and was immediately eligible to play.
His first year, he broke the record for the most blocks for an FGCU player against a Division-I opponent and the second-most in FGCU history. Even though he missed 12 games due to injury last year, he had the second best rebound percentage on the team, led the team in dunks with 22, scored his career high in points, with 12 against North Florida, and would’ve placed third in the Atlantic Sun Conference in blocks, if he had played enough games.
During Saturday's showdown, Morant played for 21 minutes and started the game at forward. He ended up only making one out of his seven field goals, with half of his points coming from free throws. In the first half, while being guarded by Washington, he missed two heavily contested layups. When he was guarded by Henry, he scored just 2 points and ended the game with 4 fouls.
Simmons, on the other hand, played for just eight minutes due to fouling out of the game in the last five minutes of the second half. He was also held to 0 points, 0 shot attempts, and 1 rebound. Washington and Henry’s defense ultimately smothered FGCU's players, holding them to a mere 10 points in the paint all game.
Morant and Simmons were completely shut down the entire afternoon. Coach John Giannini of the Explorers couldn't stop raving about Henry's performance.
“Demetrius’ [Henry] impact was phenomenal,” he said after the game. “One thing that the average spectator might not be aware of is, when a good guard is making threes, you have to guard him tight. Now when they come and set a pick and roll and you have to be hit by that screen, that big guy has to stop the guard and get back to his man before he can score. It’s really hard to do. Demetrius Henry must have done that 20 times today. Really big time defense.”
But this wasn’t just a one game phenomenon. In the last six games, the La Salle big men, including Ukraine native, Yevgen Sakhniuk, who didn’t play against FGCU, have held the opposition's 12 big men to a collective 91 points (15.1 PPG, as an entire frontcourt per team), 9 assists, and 15 offensive rebounds. When the Explorers played the Bucknell Bison, they were met with a huge test against forward Zach Thomas, who averaged 16.3 points per game coming into the contest. La Salle was able to hold him to 10 points, his lowest total of the year.
Another impressive defensive performance was against center Tim Kempton of the Lehigh Mountain Hawks. Thus far, the two-time Patriot League Player of the Year has averaged the most amount of points for a Lehigh player since 2013, putting up 22.8 points per game this year, which is 9th best in the nation. His scoring was cut to nearly half that against the Explorers when he scored a season low 12 points in addition to 4 turnovers.
Arguably the most prominent performance of the year for La Salle was against Rodney Williams of the Drexel Dragons. While averaging 17.1 points per game and compiling six games with more than 20 points, Williams has become a premier player in the City 6. However, against La Salle, he tied his season low in scoring with a meager 7 points.
Then, more recently, in a 98-96 win, the Explorers held Mercer's five bigs to just 16 points and 5 made shots in more than 100 combined minutes of play.
Saturday’s win showed how La Salle can play up to the competition. FGCU has posted four straight 20-win seasons and hasn’t finished lower than tied for second place in the Atlantic Sun Conference in each of those four seasons. La Salle is now 6-4 and looking to use this victory as fuel to win bigger and better games, especially behind their stellar frontcourt defenders.
Photo: Rich Schultz/Getty Images North America
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament