PHILADELPHIA – The last time the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (8-3, 0-0 Conf.) visited the La Salle Explorers (5-7, 0-2 Conf.), the Brown and White suffered a leap day letdown. The loss dropped Bona out of the top four in the conference, which made it more difficult for them to secure the coveted double-bye in the Atlantic 10 Tournament.
Of course, the 2020 Atlantic 10 Tournament never happened thanks to the pandemic.
Roughly 22 months later, the Bonnies return to North Philadelphia with COVID-19 still impacting the program.
Thanks to the virus, Bona has not played since Dec. 17.
“We have had a lot of time off,” St. Bonaventure Coach Mark Schmidt told the media on Monday. “We’ve had some practices; and most of those practices have not been with ten guys. But we’re not the only team dealing with this. A lot of other teams are going through it in our league and throughout the country. You just have to be flexible and try to get your work in when you can.”
The Bonnies will certainly have their work cut out for them in North Philadelphia on Tuesday night.
Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN+.
With that, let’s take a quick look at the La Salle Explorers.
Scouting the La Salle Explorers
It is no secret that La Salle is one of the weaker teams in the conference.
On paper, the Bonnies should win this game by double-digits.
But as we all know, games are played on the hardwood, and Bona has struggled to sustain success at La Salle as of late.
Since Andrew Nicholson’s graduation in 2012, the Bonnies have emerged victorious from Tom Gola Arena just once: in 2018 when Jaylen Adams and Matt Mobley combined to score 56 points.
For the Bonnies to win at La Salle for just the second time in a decade, they will have to shut down Clifton Moore and Josh Nickleberry.
Moore, a 6-foot-10 senior forward from Ambler, Pennsylvania, transferred to La Salle from Indiana. He currently averages 11.2 points per game (PPG) and 6.2 rebounds per game.
“Moore is terrific,” Schmidt said when asked about La Salle’s star big man. “[He’s a] back-to-the-basket guy, a double-double guy. He had 21 and 12 against VCU. He can [also] shoot the ball from the perimeter.”
Moore has been on a roll as of late. Before the game against VCU, he scored 26 points in a loss to Fordham. He shot a superb 12-of-17 from the field against the Rams from the Bronx.
Even though Moore has averaged 23.5 PPG over his last two games, the Explorers have yet to win since Dec. 11, which was a Big 5 victory over the University of Pennsylvania.
Alas, the only other Explorer to average more than 10.0 PPG is Josh Nickleberry, the 6-foot-4 guard from Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Nickleberry, who started his collegiate career at the University of Louisville, currently averages 11.9 PPG. He can score at all three levels, but has done so inconsistently so far this season. There have been games where he has lit up the box score and others where he has been a non-factor. He scored 28 in the victory over Holy Cross but then made just one three-pointer in the loss to Fordham.
And yet, Nickleberry did not play against VCU. It remains to be seen if he will suit up against the Bonnies.
Another Explorer that is questionable is Jhamir Brickus, who averages 9.5 PPG. Brickus missed last Saturday’s game against VCU because of health and safety protocols.
With that in mind, a couple of other players to watch out for are guards Jack Clark and Christian Ray, who average 8.4 and 6.0 PPG, respectively. These two each tallied nine points in the Reilly Center a season ago, a game in which the Bonnies prevailed 86-to-73.
In that game, Sherif Kenney, a 6-foot-4 guard from Washington, D.C., led the way for La Salle with 23 points. But the Explorers will not have Kenney this time around. Two weeks ago, Kenney announced that he would be leaving the program and entering the transfer portal. He has yet to announce where he will play next.
Ultimately, the Explorers are not in the same class as the Bonnies in terms of talent. But upsets happen and that’s why the game is played. Strange things happen. And most often in the Atlantic 10, the strangest of circumstances occur at Tom Gola Arena.
How Do the Bonnies Win?
Obviously, the Bonnies have not played in what seems like forever.
As such, nobody knows what to expect from this team. Even Coach Schmidt admitted that Tuesday’s game against La Salle feels like a season opener.
With that in mind, Bona needs to focus on the basics: avoiding foul trouble and taking good care of the basketball.
As noted above, on February 29, 2020, Bona lost by eight points at La Salle because they committed four more turnovers and were whistled for twenty fouls overall. Even though the Bonnies shot better from the field, the Explorers won this game from the free-throw line, as they attempted 31 free-throws and made 23 of them. Bona went 7-for-12 from the line in the loss.
If the Bonnies want to start the 2022 calendar year off on the right foot, they have to avoid replicating those mistakes.
And finally, Coach Schmidt did not offer any insight into the overall health of his team. Will the “Iron-Man Five” of Kyle Lofton, Jaren Holmes, Dom Welch, Jalen Adaway, and Osun Osunniyi all be healthy? Will just one of them play? Who knows. The only assurance that we do have is that Bona is traveling to Philadelphia with ten players on scholarship.
Even if Bona plays without a star or two, the keys to victory remain the same against a weaker opponent: do not commit unnecessary fouls and do not turn the ball over.
Frankly, I have no idea what to expect.
Even though the Bonnies rank 355th in the country in bench minutes, their roster is still much stronger than La Salle’s top-to-bottom. But then again, we do not know how short-handed the Brown and White are if they are at all.
Because of the mysteries surrounding Tuesday’s game, I am taking the favorites in a low-scoring slug fest.
St. Bonaventure 66, La Salle 62
Jack Milko received his B.A. in Political Science from the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass. He is now working to get his M.A. in Sports Journalism from St. Bonaventure University. A lifelong fan of the Bonnies, Jack covers the team for @A10Talk. Follow him on Twitter for more Bonnies coverage at @Jack_Milko.
Featured image courtesy of Dan Nelligan, St. Bonaventure Class of 2020, who serves as a photographer for @A10Talk.