While time may appear to be linear, it can also be cyclical. Like the changing of the seasons, the months on a calendar, even the Holidays of the year, there are events in our lives which we measure in a repeating and cyclical nature, rather than linear one. The A-10 play-in game between La Salle v. Saint Joe’s is one of those cyclical events that we have come to expect now each March. In fact, we should all begin to pen it into our calendars, as it seems like a fate both teams are destined for each year.
To recap, last year La Salle and Saint Joe’s played each other three times, with Saint Joe’s winning the series by a 2-1 margin. The final game, similar to this year, came during the play-in game of the A-10 tournament. That game, a knock out fight, resulted in Saint Joe’s winning, 72-66. This year things have changed, La Salle is the one who have conquered the series as the Explorers beat Saint Joe’s in both of the regular season games. The first win was a 75-64 victory at Hawk Hill in January, the second, a 48-49 win at the Gola Arena in February. Both games featured La Salle ramping up their on ball defense and forcing Saint Joe’s into two devastating second half meltdowns.
Now, it’s make or break for Saint Joe’s. If La Salle wins this game it will be the first time in this rivalry’s 60 year history that one team has won three games in the same season. A result like that for would be devastating for Saint Joe’s, a school that longs for a return to the days of double byes and cutting down nets in the A-10 tournament.
La Salle’s Key to the Game
La Salle is one of the hottest teams in the A-10. Heading into this matchup La Salle has won three games in a row. Those wins were against the following schools: Dayton, Saint Joe’s, and Duquesne.
Against Saint Joe’s this season, La Salle was able to win because of good on ball defense, gritty rebounding, and game critical blocks. Clifton Moore is the main person to thank for many of these things. Against Saint Joe’s last week, Moore had 7 blocks. Two of those blocks were used to stop two game tying baskets in the final minute of play. However, it is still underdetermined if Clifton Moore will play, as he suffered an injury against Duquesne on Saturday (Updates to come once his status is released). This could be a major issue for La Salle as Moore is the clear anchor for the Explorer’s defense.
If Moore does return I expect La Salle to change nothing, why mess with what has worked? However, if he does not return, there are some other players that La Salle can lean on. Jack Clark has been a major source of offense for the team. Clark has averaged 12 points this season, with his highest outing against Duquesne this Saturday, where he scored 30 points. Other notable players to watch for include Josh Nickleberry, Jhamir Brickus, and Khalil Brantley. If Moore is not in the lineup, expect La Salle to possibly go with a smaller lineup that includes these playes.
This team can go small and stretch the floor with threes, which could be interesting when one considers that Saint Joe’s played two centers against URI. Without a center Saint Joe’s could expose La Salle inside, however, playing small and fast could be the counter strategy. Shooting threes is the logical way to score if your opponent is stacking the paint. Not to mention threes result in long rebounds, giving La Salle’s Christian Ray a chance to grab offensive rebounds against SJU’s slower centers.
While this strategy has its flaws, like the fact La Salle has shot only 34% from three, there are clear advantages. Placing multiple guards on the court, and putting heavy ball pressure on Saint Joe’s ball handlers, has been the recipe to beat the Hawks this season. In fact, it has been the main reason Saint Joe’s has melted away in the second half so many times…
Saint Joe’s Keys to the Game
For Saint Joe’s the key to the game will be securing the ball and making good decisions on offense. Against La Salle last week, Saint Joe’s was held to a dismal 12 points in the second half.
The responsibility of leading this offense will most likely fall on the shoulders of A-10 All Rookie Erik Reynolds II. Reynolds has become the main point guard of this team, leading the half court offense since January. Also, Reynolds’ scoring has drastically improved throughout the second half of the season, as the freshman has reveled his impressive bag of tricks. Tricks that allow him to score from every spot on the court. He will need to have a similar game today as the one he had against URI. Reynolds has to be the focal point of the offense and act as both a facilitator and scoring threat in order to uncover mismatches in the half court.
In addition to Reynolds, Jordan Hall and Ejike Obinna will also be critical to the team’s success. Both Hall and Ejike represent the second and third parts of Saint Joe’s three pronged scoring attack.
With Taylor Funk out due to a hand injury, Saint Joe’s will be experimental with its lineups. Against URI, Coach Lange played a starting lineup which featured two centers on the court at the same time. While there has been no news of who will start, this move against URI shows that with the Funk injury Coach Lange is open to trying new things. Since December, the lineup and rotation has featured the same seven players. Part of this was due to injury, and the other to the team working to find some type of synergy. However, now all the cards are on the table, and with the season coming to a close there is no time for chemistry building. Saint Joe’s needs to throw everything out there and clinch a win.
Finally, the last key for Saint Joe’s is the improved play of Jack Forrest. If Saint Joe’s wants to win Forrest will need to step up. His outside shooting will have to pick up the gap left by Taylor Funk. Forrest hit some big shots against URI last game. If he returns to the form we saw against URI, it could be the extra bump in scoring Saint Joe’s needs in order to win.
For my prediction, I have Saint Joe’s winning. Maybe it is because of blind faith, but this SJU team is better on paper than La Salle. Now, that hasn’t done much given the fact they have lost twice to the Explorers. However, I do not believe La Salle is good enough to win three times in a row, especially if Clifton Moore is out. Because of this, I have the Hawks winning by a margin of five points, and expect the score to be in the mid 60’s for both teams. However, after this season, I have learned that predicting a Saint Joe’s win does not usually pan out in my favor…
Saint Joseph’s and La Salle will face off today at 1:00pm EST. The game will be aired on ESPN+ as well. The winner of this game will advance to play Saint Louis in the next round.