As La Salle began their season this week, a storyline that fans and media were watching for was how would La Salle’s revitalized offense look coming out of the gate. Last season, it is no secret that the offensive gameplan was a mess and needed a makeover. So, John Giannini hired Matt Brady as an assistant coach and made him the offensive coordinator.
Although Dr. Giannini has a longer head coaching resume, amassing 477 wins over a 27 year coaching career, it is clear that Giannini respects Brady immensely as a basketball mind, calling him “One of the best coaches in the Atlantic 10” at an interview for goexplorers.tv.
In that interview, he reaffirms that Brady will be the team’s offensive wizard stating that “I think his offensive expertise clearly surpasses mine.”
Their first game was Brady and Giannini’s first opportunity to show off the improved offense, and although the Explorers were not able to earn the win, the script for Saturday night’s game was vastly different than anything Explorer fans saw last season. The Explorers offensive execution was surprisingly on-point. La Salle amassed 92 points and turned the ball over just nine times in 45 minutes of play. They moved the ball around well, fed Tony Washington and Demetrius Henry in the post when they had position, and put a well-coached Fran Dunphy defense on their heels. If Jordan Price shot just a little better than 3-9 from deep, the game may not have even made it to overtime.
A few plays stuck out as examples of well coached offense that should give La Salle fans encouragement from the Temple game. One play was Amar Stukes’ dribble drive with 5 minutes left in regulation. Although the result was a blocked shot by Temple’s Obi Enechionyia, the execution of the play was very nice, as La Salle ran a motion set that gave Stukes a good angle to drive toward the basket. Stukes’ drive forced Temple’s defense to collapse and it left Price wide open on the wing. Obviously, the point guard needs to find Price here, instead of attempting the layup, but, surely this is a play that Stukes saw again in a film session and he will keep an eye open for a shooter next time La Salle runs that set.
Another well executed play in the Temple game came at the 25-second mark of the second half out of a Temple timeout with the Owls leading by 3. Brady drew up a beauty out of the timeout and, as La Salle spaced out the floor, Price made a baseline cut that drew the defense’s attention. The ball then found Stukes, who was posted up against Temple’s freshman, Alani Moore. Had Stukes gotten his shot off earlier, he could have tied the game right then. Instead, Stukes settled for a pair of free-throws, La Salle had to foul Temple on the next possession and then rely on a heroic three-point shot from Price to send the game into overtime.
Tuesday night’s game against Delaware had a much different tone. Although the Explorer’s did not play as well offensively as they did against Temple, they were able to score as much as they needed to carve out a win.
La Salle’s star on Tuesday had to be Pookie Powell, who scored 14 points, dished out six assists, and grabbed 7 rebounds in 35 minutes of play. He did all of this without committing a single turnover. He scored in a variety of ways, from making a pair of three-point shots, to going a perfect 7-7 from the free-throw line, and even throwing down a monsterous dunk after crossing up the defense and driving right down the middle of the lane.
While Powell racked up the stats, the interesting note from the game was how La Salle’s coaching staff used Stukes. Since Stukes struggles to shoot from the perimeter, conventional wisdom would say to have him as the primary ball handler and Powell off-ball when the two guards share the floor. But Coach Brady and Dr. Giannini often started sets with Powell on-ball, then using dribble-handoffs, weaves, and ball movement to get Stukes the ball in a spot where the defense was not set and he could penetrate with a dribble drive. This type of action played a large part in Stukes going 4-7 from the field, amasing five assists and giving away only 1 turnover in 35 minutes of play.
Another offensive tactic La Salle used was putting Stukes on the free-throw line and having him make plays out of the high-post. This is a smart way to use Stukes because of his positional size (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) and passing ability. Out of the high post, Stukes is patient with his decision making and was able to find either Henry/Washington in the low post or kick the ball out to a shooter on the perimeter. Look for La Salle to continue to use Stukes in this spot and watch how opponents adjust to this over the season.
Saturday’s loss vs Texas Southern was a tough blow in front of a sold-out Tom Gola Arena. If you look at most of the stats, La Salle should have won the game. They turned the ball over only eight times, while Texas Southern had 14 turnovers and also shot a smooth 45% from the 3-point line. But a combination of poor team defense on La Salle’s part, losing the rebounding battle by 10, and a buzzer-beating 3-pointer by Dulani Robinson resulted in the Explorers dropping the game, 77-76. B.J. Johnson’s play was a bright spot for La Salle, as he scored 24 points on 3-3 from behind the arc and a perfect 9-9 on free-throws. He and Price show the potential to be a good tandem together, especially running a pick and pop where both players have the skills to be the ball handler or the shooter.
While the optimistic La Salle fan’s expectations may have been dampered after La Salle’s first pair of games, they have the players to make serious noise this season. If the coaches continue to put role players like Stukes in the best spot to be successful and get consistent scoring from both Price and Johnson, the Explorers will show improvement in their offensive execution as the season goes on. La Salle continues their season on Sunday the 27th at Drexel.
Photo: William Derry/Philly Empire
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament