Struggling through a seven-game losing streak, the current state of the La Salle Explorers was looking bleak. For La Salle’s matchup against the Dayton Flyers on Saturday afternoon, a comfortable Flyers win seemed imminent. The Explorers are still playing without forwards Rohan Brown and Yevgen Sakhniuk and it was expected that the Flyers would use their up-tempo-motion offense to attack the Explorers’ defense through ball movement and setting up forward Dyshawn Pierre with inside looks. La Salle’s head coach Dr. John Giannini did a great job of creating a conservative game plan that took Dayton out of their up-tempo comfort zone and manufactured the biggest win of the season so far for his Explorers.
Offensively, La Salle ran their offense mostly out of a 1-4 or 1-2-2 set with either Jordan Price or Johnnie Shuler at the top of the play and dribbling the ball until there was about 10-12 seconds remaining in the shot clock, then running a pick and roll play for an efficient look.
When asked about the tempo affecting Dayton, Dr. Giannini said, “Very few people play that way so it is unusual. People like to be comfortable, not a lot of people want to play against that.”
This strategy was a really smart move by Dr. Giannini for two reasons. First of all, milking down the shot clock allows the players to rest on offense. La Salle only used six players during this game. Both Cleon Roberts and Amar Stukes played all 40 minutes of the game, Jordan Price played 38 and had Tony Washington not have fouled-out with 2:30 remaining, he would have added onto his 34 minutes played in this game. With the Explorers five starters averaging 37 minutes played, an up-tempo attack was not a viable option. Knowing that he is not playing with a full hand, Dr. Giannini implemented the slow-tempo attack and saved his players energy on offense so that they would be able to give an all-out defensive effort.
Sophomore guard Amar Stukes, who scored a season-high 13 points to go along with a pair of steals, said about the benefits on defense from slowing the game down, “We definitely had a lot more energy on defense. We were able to keep the ball in front of us this game and get some good stops towards the end. The energy we had from the rest on offense really helped us out this game.”
Another reason this conservative offensive game plan worked for the Explorers is because the more passes in an offensive possession, the more opportunities the offense has to turn the ball over. In this offense, La Salle does not waste any passes in a possession and the Explorers were able to turn the ball over only 10 times against a Dayton defense that is averaging 13.4 opponent turnovers per game. With La Salle’s low turnover number, the Dayton Flyers were not able to produce many fast-break points, forcing them to run their offense almost exclusively in the half-court.
It wasn’t only the offense that was conservative for the Explorers. La Salle’s half court defensive strategy was a mix of man-to-man and 2-3 zone, never really pushing the Flyers with any full-court pressure. La Salle’s defense is really what won the game. Dayton averaged 74.6 points per game heading into Saturday’s matchup. Against La Salle, Dayton was only able to score 57 points. One might think that La Salle’s time-draining offense limited the amount of Dayton possessions over the course of the game, but Dayton’s 55 field goals matched their season average for team field goals per game. What caused Dayton to only put up 57 points was their 30.9% shooting from the field, almost 17% lower than their season average of 47%. The Explorers collapsing defense forced the Flyers to attempt 25 three-point shots, Dayton only connected on seven of those attempts.
Despite 20 offensive rebounds from the Flyers, La Salle was able to stay with Dayton in the rebounding matchup, snagging 32 compared to Dayton’s 36. Considering how undersized the Explorers are, going with four and five-guard lineups, La Salle can consider the rebounding battle yesterday a success for them despite giving up four more rebounds to Dayton.
Even as La Salle went to the free throw line in the second half, Dr. Giannini used conservative methods, neglecting to put any players in the lane and conceding any offensive rebound opportunity. This tactic was completed in favor of having four defenders in the back court to prevent the Flyers from early-offense opportunities off of missed free throws. Everything the Explorers did in this game was calculated and purposeful.
As Atlantic-10 conference play continues, it will be interesting to see if La Salle continues to implement this ultra-conservative method. If they continue to have success with this, it will also be interesting to see how the Explorers’ opponents adjust. I would expect teams to try to trap the Explorers’ ball-handlers and force them into earlier offense. The question will then be, how will the Explorers respond to this? If you ask Jordan Price, he has confidence in Dr. Giannini’s ability to prepare the team for anything, stating, “Our game plan has worked. If we listen to coach G, we are going to win.”
Photo: Mike Stobe/Getty Images North America
-La Salle loses to UMass in the first round of the A-10 tournament