Previewing the La Salle Explorers

Posted In News - By Alan Kelly On Friday, January 2nd, 2015 With 0 Comments

George Mason (5-7) returns to the Patriot Center to open 2015 and the Atlantic 10 Conference schedule against La Salle tomorrow evening at 7pm. The Philadelphia school got off to a reasonably solid start, finishing 8-5 in non-conference play with an RPI of 68. Their best win was at Hofstra, one of the favorites in the CAA, and their only loss outside the top 100 was to American in overtime at home.

The Explorers are led by sophomore guard and Auburn transfer Jordan Price, who averages 18.7 points and 3 assists per game. At 4-0 on the season, they are undefeated in true road contests, winning at Hofstra, Quinnipiac, Towson, and Drexel.

The Patriots will hope to get continued production from their newcomers, even as they lament Eric Lockett’s nagging injuries and Therence Mayimba’s NCAA clearing house snafu. Dick Patrick provided some useful updates at over the holidays.

A year ago, the Patriots won their first-ever meeting with the Explorers, 59-57 at Tom Gola Arena on March 6 on Marko Gujanicic’s game-winning layup with 21 seconds remaining. To learn more about what’s changed for La Salle in the last ten months, I caught up with Joe Fedorowicz (@JoeFedorowicz) of to answer some questions. The Explorers had to replace three senior starters from last season. How has that process gone? Who are the leaders on this year’s team?

JF: Two years ago, La Salle had another SEC transfer in Ramon Galloway that was both their best player and their emotional leader. Galloway graduated that year and while last season’s team saw the end of Tyreek Duren, one of the better point guards in La Salle history, the team lacked a vocal presence that could see the floor.

This season, it seems that Jordan Price has assumed the Galloway-role. Though he struggled in the first few games, the sophomore from Auburn has shown that he can light up a statsheet and is the “locker-room” presence that was missing since 2013.

So while there are three seniors on the team in Steve Zack, Jerrell Wright and DJ Peterson, the bulk of the leadership efforts have fallen to Price. It is not that the other three are not leaders, they are just quieter personalities both on the court and off. How big of a surprise has Price been?

JF: There was rumblings since Price arrived on campus that he was “unguardable” in practice. Early on, however, it looked as though he relied heavily on a three point shot that was unrefined and was careless with his shot selection. Though he scored, he did so on the heels of poor shooting efforts and quantity, not quality.

That all changed in the loss to American. In that game, Price was efficient, shooting 7-13 from the field, 3-4 from deep and 9-10 from the foul line. Scoring 26 points overall, that game started a string of the last four that has him averaging 25.8 points per game.

So to say he was a surprise is untrue, but his early struggles had La Salle fans thinking they’ve been had, a tune which has certainly changed in the last month. Last season, La Salle had a pretty thin bench. Has that weakness been addressed?

JF: Yes and no. La Salle always seems to have backcourt depth, and while this year is no exception to the number of bodies available, experience is hard to come by. With Price is a rotating starting guard set of senior DJ Peterson, Khalid Lewis and Georgia Southern transfer Cleon Roberts. Peterson missed a few games with injury which allowed Roberts to shine and while Lewis is serviceable at the point guard spot, he does struggle with shooting at times.

Backing up those three are a pair of freshman that have both shown flashes. Amar Stukes redshirted last season and has scored in bunches when he is on the court. Deceivingly athletic, though small when compared to Price and Peterson, Stukes has shown that he has some “Duren-eqsue” finishing ability at the rim.

Joining him is true freshman Johnnie Shuler, a point guard out of Baltimore. Shuler is a good shooter, but has yet to find much time on the court. Though rumored to be redshirting coming into this season, the also-small guard apparently played his way into the rotation and can hit a shot when needed.

As far as backup big men go, La Salle has a definite void there. Zack and Wright see the court together for most of the game while Wright is out of foul trouble, and just Rohan Brown, who is more of a strong wing then a big, sees significant minutes in relief. Tony Washington, another redshirt freshman, will see some minutes. While Washington has yet to show anything of substance on the offensive end, he is good for a block here or there. La Salle won four in a row to open the season, then lost four out of the next five, and have since won their last three. At 8-5 after non-conference play, is the team achieving some consistency?

JF: La Salle’s first four were against marginal competition and La Salle struggled to score. After that, they faced two teams in the current top-10 (Villanova and Virginia), as well as a now-much-better Temple team. Though they were run off the court against ‘Nova, La Salle stormed back to put a scare into Virginia and lost by a single point to Temple.

The lost to Vanderbilt was a bad one and the overtime defeat at the hands of American might be worse, but the Explorers seem to have righted the ship. The Hofstra win is the only one that holds any weight, but it has been the way La Salle has played that has shined through. In their last five, La Salle has outscored opponents by an average of 9.6 points per contest. La Salle was picked 7th in the A10 preseason poll. What are some realistic expectations for the Explorers the rest of this season?

JF: Is La Salle going to win the Atlantic 10? Unlikely, but they can certainly contend with everyone near the top. Teams like VCU and George Washington have shown to have holes. Dayton’s roster continues to shrink and UMASS has no great wins. This is a 50/50 year for La Salle. If they continue to shoot well and get production from Wright, Price and Roberts, this is a team that will be near the top of the standings. John Giannini’s teams always play tough defense, even when they don’t have the bodies to do it, and this year is no exception.

The next four will be very telling, though, as the docket reads GMU, UMASS, Dayton and George Washington, four teams that are in the upper half of the conference. Should La Salle come out with three or four wins, they’ll be set up for a successful year. Thanks for your time, Joe.

About - Alan Kelly is a 2010 and 2013 graduate of George Mason University and a former member of the Patriot Platoon. He had the memorable experience of being in the middle of the college decision process as George Mason's Final Four run unfolded. He currently resides in Northern Virginia.

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