The Explorers bring double-digit scorers to North Broad but also an average 10-9 record.
When coach Fran Dunphy and the men’s basketball team play the La Salle Explorers Saturday, they will face a squad that is ripe with talent but lacks on-court results.
Leading the way for the Explorers (10-9 overall, 2-3 Atlantic Ten Conference) is senior guard Rodney Green. Green, the A-10’s second-highest returning scorer, averages 18.7 points per game. A four-year starter, Green is trying to become just the seventh La Salle player to score 2,000 points in a career.
Freshman center Aaric Murray, ranked the 59th-best high school prospect in the nation by ESPN, averages 12.1 points and 7.2 rebounds per game for the Explorers.
Murray, a 6-foot-10-inch 250-pounder, chose La Salle over offers from Villanova, Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Temple. The Owls won’t have time to wonder what could have been with Murray, as he has been known to step out and shoot 3-pointers to set the pace of the game. Despite his tremendous size, Murray is a stellar 3-point shooter, sinking 47.8 percent of his shots from beyond the arc.
After dominating Big 5 foe Penn last Wednesday, the Explorers faced off against Charlotte (14-5 overall, 4-1 A-10), owners of the conference’s second-best overall record. Green led the way for the Explorers with 32 points on 12-of-25 shooting. He wasn’t the only La Salle player scoring at ease, as the Explorers outshot the 49ers, 48.3 percent to 43.5 percent. La Salle’s 15 turnovers proved to be the difference, however, as Charlotte won, 84-82, on a last-second An’Juan Wilderness jumper. Senior forward Yves Mekongo Mbala scored 20 points for the Explorers in the loss.
Offense has never been the problem for the Explorers, as they average 71.4 points per game and shoot around 45 percent from the field. Their offense isn’t limited to just their starters, as 10 players average nine or more minutes per game. However, the team as a whole plays lackluster defense, giving up 71.2 points per game.
The Explorers have been inconsistent this year. They started the season 7-3 before losing six of nine games. La Salle has had some embarrassing losses, too, including a Jan. 2 loss to Binghamton, a team playing with only one scholarship guard after suffering NCAA sanctions.
The Explorers have played well in other games, though, defeating George Washington, 65-64, before losing to Xavier, 68-62.
The loss to the Musketeers proved how resilient La Salle can be, as the Explorers rallied from a 15-point halftime deficit to tie the game with fewer than four minutes to go before ultimately falling short.
Explorers coach Dr. John Giannini is La Salle’s all-time winningest coach in A-10 play. Since La Salle joined the conference in 1995, its only winning conference records have come underneath Giannini. Before coming to Philadelphia, Giannini was the winningest coach at the University of Maine.
While Temple is seemingly the better team, the Explorers are a Big 5 rival and are likely to come to the Liacouras Center amped up for the challenge. In order to prevent the upset, the Owls will need to avoid a cold-shooting performance, as the Explorers are a team with enough talent to make them pay. The Cherry and White will also need to avoid taking their foot off the pedal, as no lead is safe against a team as potent as La Salle.
Kyle Gauss can be reached at email@example.com.