Following their second loss of the season, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies (9-2, 7-2 Conf.) host the LaSalle Explorers (8-11, 5-7 Conf.) on Tuesday evening. Tip-off at the Reilly Center is slated for 6 pm on ESPN+.
Before Saturday’s setback at St. Louis, the Bonnies had yet to lose in 2021. A seven-game winning streak during January vaulted Bona to the top of the conference standings.
When asked about the loss in Missouri on Saturday, St. Bonaventure Head Coach Mark Schmidt said, “We take every game, one game at a time. The St. Louis game is now in the rearview mirror… we learn from our mistakes and try to move on. The goal of every team in the country is to try and get better. Our job as coaches is to prepare players better and for players, their job is to play better. That’s what we try to do.”
The Bonnies now have to shift their focus to LaSalle, a team that has knocked off Richmond, St. Louis, and Dayton already this season. The Explorers have played spoiler before, as I referenced last Friday.
If the Bonnies want to contend in the conference, and battle for an NCAA Tournament at-large berth, then a victory over LaSalle is a must. A loss to the Explorers, however, would all but end these opportunities.
Scouting the LaSalle Explorers
LaSalle is playing their second road game in four days. The Explorers lost to the Fordham Rams in the Bronx last Saturday afternoon by a score of 76-68.
LaSalle’s season has been defined by inconsistencies. Their last two games epitomize that. Last Wednesday, the Explorers knocked off the St. Louis Billikens in Philly. Three days after beating one of the king’s of the conference, LaSalle fell to one of the Atlantic 10’s bottomfeeders.
It remains to be seen which Explorer team will show up in Olean: the one that can beat anyone in the conference or the one that could not win in the Bronx. Either way, the Explorers are a tough team to play against. Coach Schmidt had nothing but positive things to say about them: “[LaSalle] is talented. They’ve got really good guards. They can shoot the ball from the perimeter. They can take you off the bounce.”
Coach added that “[the Expolorers] push the ball hard in transition… they are a tough team to beat. They have a lot of good pieces.”
“Good Pieces” on Offense
According to our friend @SBUnfurled, LaSalle is one of three teams in the country that does not have a player averaging more than ten points per game.
Yet, as Coach Schmidt pointed out, “[LaSalle] has seven or eight guys that average between ten and six points [per game].”
LaSalle Head Coach Ashley Howard plays a deep bench. No Explorer averages more than 26 minutes per game but nine players see at least 17 minutes per contest. This Explorer team does not have a star player or a go-to guy. Rather, they play well as a team and everyone finds a way to contribute.
One Explorer to watch out for is Sophomore guard Christian Ray, who stands at 6’6″. Ray has had a terrific stretch as of late, which includes a career-high 18-point outburst in the loss at Fordham this past weekend. Last month, in the upset victory over Richmond, Ray scored 11 while snatching eight rebounds. When LaSalle beat the Bonnies a season ago, Ray tallied six points and grabbed ten rebounds as a Freshman.
Two other Explorers to watch out for are guards Sherif Kenney and Jack Clark. Each average 9.8 PPG for LaSalle, as they both lead the team in scoring.
Kenney, the Sophomore guard from our nation’s capital, stands at 6’4″ and can light it up from beyond the arc. He has made 27 of his 75 attempts from three so far this year, which equates to 36%. A season ago, he shot 26% from downtown; Kenny has made great strides in improving his touch from the outside. He scored 20 at VCU back on January 30 and then followed that performance up with 17 in the victory over St. Louis. The Bonnies will need to keep Kenney in check to avoid the upset.
Jack Clark, who plays more of a guard/forward combo as he is 6’8″, redshirted last season due to medical reasons. He has returned to the LaSalle lineup as perhaps one of the most important pieces. He has scored in double digits in four of the past five games. In the only game he failed to do so, against Rhode Island, Clark finished with nine. Clark also leads the team in rebounding, averaging 5.3 boards per game.
Another Explorer to watch out for is David Beatty, the Senior who comes off the bench. Beatty, a Philadelphia native, scored 22 points in the victory over St. Louis. He had 15 of those in the second half and also drained four threes. The Bonnies will need to watch out for “Big Game Beatty” when he checks into the game. Beatty averages 8.2 PPG and shoots 35.3% from three.
LaSalle shoots the ball well from deep, as I note below.
Overall, the Explorers have an above-average offense despite not having a star player that can take over a game.
Weakness is Defense
According to KenPom, LaSalle ranks 13th in the conference in defensive efficiency. The Explorers give up 71.4 PPG, which ranks 10th in the conference. LaSalle’s overall scoring margin is -3.1, which puts them in the bottom third of the Atlantic 10 for this metric as well.
Most of LaSalle’s losses have come when they have allowed more than 70 points. When the Explorers hold opponents to under 70 points, they have a record of 5-2. During Atlantic 10 conference play, the Explorers rank 12th in both effective field goal percentage (eFG%) and offensive rebound percentage. For those that do not know what eFG% is, it aims to show what percentage a two-point shooter would have to shoot to match the output of a three-point shooter since three-pointers count for more points than those taken from inside the arc. LaSalle’s defensive eFG% currently sits at 52.9%. To provide some perspective, the Division I average is 50%, according to KenPom.
In terms of offensive rebound percentage, LaSalle gives up plenty of second-chance opportunities. Offensive rebounds lead to more points and more fouls, which do not equate to victories.
Nonetheless, these advanced analytics show that LaSalle is a below-average defensive team.
Furthermore, LaSalle allows its conference opponents to shoot at a clip of 55.4% from inside the arc, which ranks last in the Atlantic 10, according to KenPom.
How Do The Bonnies Avoid The LaSalle Landmine?
The Bonnies need to do two things to avoid a two-game losing streak. First, St. Bonaventure needs to score at least 70 points. La Salle has struggled on the defensive side of the ball and Bona needs to take advantage of that deficiency. Secondly, the Bonnies need to defend the perimeter. If those two things happen, the Brown and White will avoid the landmine that is LaSalle.
The Explorers have a record of 2-10 when they fail to score 70 points. Meanwhile, the Bonnies are undefeated when scoring at least 60.
Last season, at Tom Gola Arena, LaSalle beat the Bonnies 73-65. The offense struggled on Olney Avenue as Bona shot only 27% from three. Bona also lost the turnover battle and LaSalle turned those giveaways into 13 points.
Last Saturday against St. Louis, the Bonnies could not find any offensive rhythm, shooting only 36.4% from the field.
Furthermore, Guard Jaren Holmes, one of St. Bonaventure’s premier scorers, committed three first-half fouls and played only 26 minutes. In total, the Bonnies committed 18 fouls to St. Louis’ 13.
This game against LaSalle provides St. Bonaventure an opportunity to find their groove on offense once again.
The 70-point plateau will be reached if forward Osun Osunniyi has a big game offensively. Hasahn French, the Billiken who seems to always stymie the Bonnies, shut down Osunniyi last Saturday. Osun managed to score only seven. Five of those points came from the free-throw line.
Against LaSalle, Bona should look to go through the post with Osunniyi. If a shot is not there inside, then he can swing it back out to Holmes or guards Kyle Lofton and Dom Welch. Nonetheless, Osunniyi has some terrific court vision and the Bonnies need to utilize him more on offense against LaSalle.
The Bonnies will need to get back to how they played against George Mason: swing the ball around unselfishly and take the open look. Bona also did a great job of getting the ball inside to Osun, and he made the Patriots pay. If they do this, then Bona will emerge victoriously.
Defend the Perimeter
LaSalle loves to chuck as they attempt roughly 22 threes per game. The Explorers have had great success in shooting from downtown as they shoot 36.1% from three, good for third in the conference.
Coach Howard has three players that shoot better than 35% from beyond the arc: Scott Spencer, Sherif Kenney, and David Beatty. Spencer ranks fifth in the Atlantic 10 as he shots 42.3% from deep.
When asked how to defend the three against LaSalle, Coach Schmidt said “We just gotta keep the ball in front of us, do a better job in the post, and [we can’t] turn the ball over. We [also] can’t let them get out in the break.”
Before the St. Louis game, the Bonnies had done a terrific job in defending the perimeter.
Then some sloppy play led to the Billikens catching fire, as St. Louis drained 11 threes against Bonaventure’s stout defense.
LaSalle has knocked off three of the best teams in the conference because the Explorers shot the ball well in each one of those games. In the victory against Dayton, LaSalle nailed 9 of 26 from beyond the arc, which equates to 34.6%. At Richmond, LaSalle drained 9 of 17 from deep. And then against St. Louis, the Explorers hit 8 of 19 from downtown. In those three games alone, the Explorers shot 40% from three. Any team that shoots 40% or more from downtown usually has a great chance of winning.
The Bonnies will have to bear down on their perimeter defense to win this game. If LaSalle makes more than ten three-pointers, then the Brown and White could find themselves in some trouble.
Coach Schmidt hates thinking about the standings and looking at the big picture. In his session with the media on Monday, he said: “to me, the standings do not really mean anything. Not everyone has played the same amount of games… we just try to take it one game at a time and not worry about anybody else. We just gotta take care of ourselves.”
This mantra has served the Bonnies well to this point as their schedule has changed more often than not. It provides them the opportunity to focus solely on one opponent, and this time, all the attention is on LaSalle.
Bona knows that LaSalle is a tough opponent and the Explorers have the potential to beat anyone on any night. Nonetheless, I think this game is a lot closer than anticipated. I envision both David Beatty and Kyle Lofton having big games once again at the Reilly Center. But I think the Brown and White prevail by four in a game that comes down to the final minutes.
Prediction: St. Bonaventure 71, LaSalle 67