The 12 seeded La Salle Explorers will face off against the 5 seeded Saint Louis Billikens in a day two A10 Tournament matchup in our nation’s capital. The Billikens have had their way with the Explorers this season, beating them 75-57 on February 8th and then coming back a week later and beating La Salle 90-64 on the 16th. The Billikens come into this matchup as heavy favorites, and why shouldn’t they? They have proved that they are one of the best teams in the conference this year and La Salle has proved just the opposite this year.
So what do the Explorers have going for them in what seems like an unwinnable game?
Well, to start, the Explorers are winners of their last four; beating Dayton, St. Joe’s, Duquesne, and St. Joe’s again in the Wednesday Pillow Fight. They come into the game as one of the hottest teams in the A10 and they look to build on their confidence in this do-or-die game.
La Salle’s Key’s to Victory
La Salle may need the same amount of keys a hotel maid has to win this, but there are some things that have proved to work for the Explorers. The first is playing through Jack Clark and Clifton Moore. They combined for 39 points in the pillow fight game against the Hawks and have been instrumental in this winning streak La Salle is on. Playing through your best and most consistent two players is the best chance to make sure your team can put points on the board and that is what La Salle must do to keep the game in reach.
Another offensive weapon that the Explorers must utilize is Josh Nickelberry. The Louisville transfer has proved to be a bit inconsistent this season, but he has the ability to shoot the lights out of an arena. It was overshadowed by Jack Clark’s 30 bomb, but against Duquesne Nickelberry scored 23 of his own points going 5-7 from deep. If you get him going early he can prove lethal, as when he is in a groove he just can’t seem to miss.
On the defensive end, La Salle needs to close out on the Billiken shooters and make their shots as contested and difficult as possible. In their last meeting, Saint Louis shot an unconscious rate of 64.3% from the field. Part of this is due to Billiken shooters such as Jordan Nesbitt making it rain from deep, but another part is La Salle’s failure to close out on shooters. This is a number that must go down if La Salle want to keep up with Saint Louis, as the Explorers shoot a mere 41.7% from the field this season.
Saint Louis’s Keys to Victory
Saint Louis will maybe only need a set of house keys to beat the Explorers. To me, it is simple for the Billikens; just shoot the ball well from the mid-range and the perimeter. It has worked before and it was clear that La Salle couldn’t stop guys like Fred Thatch Jr. and Jordan Nesbitt from getting high percentage open shots and knocking them down. Last time these two teams played Clifton Moore blocked 4 shots and Moore has been throwing a season long block party. Do your best to not allow him to just stifle your offensive runs and carry momentum to La Salle and the Billikens should be fine.
On the defensive end, I believe the solution is once again simple. Until other Explorers prove they can beat you, do everything you can to shut down Jack Clark and Clifton Moore on the offensive end. The offense consistently runs through them, and if you shut even one of them down, it forces other guys to pick up the slack and beat you.
As much as my blue and gold heart wants La Salle to win and wants to predict them to win, I unfortunately don’t see that happening. Yes, the Explorers are coming into this game really hot and confident, and yes, it is hard to beat a team three times in one season. However when a team as good as Saint Louis plays a team like La Salle it is difficult to see a world where the underdogs win that game.
This game will air on USA Network at 2:30 pm. The winner will face off against the 4th seeded Bonnies on Friday.