The Forty Niners take to the road again Saturday to play the La Salle Explorers at Tom Gola Arena. The Niners (13-5, 3-1) logged perhaps their most complete win of the season in their most recent game, besting Richmond on the road 71-59 to break a 4-game winning streak for the Spiders against Charlotte. For La Salle (10-8, 2-2), the Explorers enter the game coming off a 19-point win against fellow Big 5 school Penn. For the Niners, Saturday’s game represents an opportunity to get a quality, road victory against a conference foe -something that has been at a premium over the 5 seasons the Niners have competed in the A10.
The Explorers would like to call themselves a veteran squad, but unfortunately injuries have continued to take a toll on the team. Sr. SG Ruben Guillandeaux remains out with a stress fracture in his right foot suffered in Charleston. This is a big loss as he brought size (6’6″), scoring (10+ ppg.), shooting (>30% career 3 pt shooter), and play making (3+ apg.) to the Explorers backcourt. Another La Salle Sr. struggling with an injury is Kimmani Barrett. Barrett has missed the last three games with a sprain to his right foot (do La Salle players only have right foot injuries) and is listed as questionable for Saturday’s game. When available, Barrett does a lot of good things for the Explorers from the SF position, scoring 13.3 ppg. with solid shooting from both the field (46.4%) and from behind the arc (37.9%).
La Salle does have two excellent Srs. that are still healthy in Yves Mekongo and Rodney Green. Mekongo in particular has scored well of late averaging 14.5 ppg. over the last 4 games; however, his shooting has suffered as he’s under 40% for the first time in his career. As for Rodney Green, well he’s nothing short of a beast. The current active leading scorer in the A10 has not disappointed his Sr. campaign averaging just under 18 ppg. along with 5 rpg. and just over 4 apg.
The principle newcomer to the Explorer squad is highly regarded Fr. C Aaric Murray. Murray has certainly not disappointed in his debut, putting up over 12 points a game, leading the team with 7.2 rpg., and blocking over 2 shots a game. Murray is also very well rounded offensively, having the ability to step out and shoot the three effectively, leading the team at 46.5% from behind the arc (of players in the regular rotation). He will definitely be a handle to defend as the Niners have not faced many players this season with his combination of polish and brawn.
The Explorers aren’t particularly deep (due to injuries for one) and play 3 guys more than 35 minutes a game. While they do have a significant size advantage at most positions (Rodney Green is the “shortest” starter at 6’5″), the lack of depth is a problem and could lead to fatigue. Though La Salle does do a good job of limiting fouls compared to the opposition they turn the ball over considerably more than foes. DiJuan Harris and Derrio Green with their speed advantage may be able to harass taller players handling the ball in the open court and the perimeter, though for the latter I expect us to be playing a lot of zone to limit the size advantage.
La Salle will also pose a strong challenge on the boards, especially the offensive glass if the Niners opt for mostly zone defense. The Explorers are outrebounding the opposition by 6.5 rpg. (the Niners only outrebound opponents by 2.8 per game).
Saturday’s game will be difficult for the Forty Niners, but it is winnable. The Niners will have to do several things well to win this game, and avoid a few others.
Keys for Charlotte:
- Rebound the ball well. I expect another slugfest like the previous two conference games the Niners have played. Winning the rebound battle probably means winning the game.
- Limit turnovers. La Salle doesn’t force a lot of turnovers and as long as we’re patient in the half court like we were against Richmond that shouldn’t be a problem.
- Work for open shots in the halfcourt and push the ball when transition opportunities present themselves. We have a speed advantage and they have a turnover issue.
Keys for La Salle:
- Force the issue inside to get the Niners in foul trouble.
- Crash the boards and dominate the rebounding game.
- Limit turnovers by controlling tempo.
I don’t want to take this game for granted, because I don’t. La Salle is well coached, has considerable talent, and a significant size advantage. But the Niners seem to be playing a style of basketball that reminds me more of the 98-99 team I cherish and less of the chuck-and-duck style we abhor. It’ll also be interesting to see how much, if any, playing time Javarris Barnett and Gokhan Sirin get after playing well against Richmond. The former especially.