By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)
La Salle 73, Rider 60 – Box Score
Sometimes, playing shorthanded is only an excuse if you let it be one. Despite once again only having seven scholarship players available, the La Salle Explorers moved to 2-0 on the season with a convincing win over the visiting Rider Broncs.
The Explorers are currently without Tony Washington, Karl Harris, and O.J. Lewis, all of whom are out with concussions (at least they’re taking head injuries seriously somewhere, Goodell). 6’10” big man Tony Washington is a particularly big loss for the Explorers.
“We really, really miss Tony. That guy is really ready to be a good big man in the Atlantic 10,” head coach John Giannini said after the game.
With their leading interior player sidelined, and needing to stay out of foul trouble, La Salle once again stuck with an uncharacteristic zone defense for the majority of the contest. The Explorers did a great job with it, only losing the rebounding battle by a slim 30-27 margin, and more importantly, committing just 10 fouls total on the night. That restraint was especially impressive in light of the new NCAA rules on hand-checking that have seen foul totals jump across the country.
La Salle’s Jordan Price on staying out of foul trouble: “We just came out and played our defense basically. We weren’t really conscious of it, we know we can’t touch ’em.”
“Our kids are playing [the zone] hard, and they’re quick, and they get around and it’s kept us out and foul trouble and it’s got us a few games,” Coach Giannini added.
With the smaller lineup, the Explorers were able to do damage offensively from behind the arc. Although they finished a modest 8-24 on threes, La Salle was 6-16 in the first half to help open up a 12-point lead heading into the locker room. Redshirt junior Cleon Roberts had the most efficient outing, draining 3 of 6 threes (and 7 of 10 shots overall) to tally 18 points by the end of the night.
Along with hitting more threes than the Broncs, the quicker Explorers swarmed defensively, recording 11 steals compared to just 6 for Rider. Roberts had 3 steals, as did sophomore point guard Johnnie Shuler, who also tallied 14 points and a career-high 8 rebounds.
Giannini later pointed out, “Almost every statistic goes up when you get smaller except for rebounding…You scrap and you keep that from being the reason that you lose.”
When it came down to it though, scrapping is nice, but so is having the best player on the court. Now in his second season since transferring from Auburn, Jordan Price has clearly assumed the mantle as go-to star for the Explorers, finishing with 28 points on 11-22 shooting. Price didn’t have his best game shooting from the outside, but was able to drive the ball to the rim at will, possessing a combination of strength and speed for which Rider had no answer.
“We beat veteran teams that have a lot of guys coming back, that in my opinion, are going to have good seasons. So I’m thrilled to get through the first two games with a short bench, and a short team,” Coach Giannini concluded.
The Explorers have shown themselves capable of navigating difficult waters. With their veterans leading the way and reinforcements due back soon, the skies look bright for them going forward.