PHILADELPHIA– Saint Joseph’s and Temple weren’t favored in their conference home games, +8 and +7.5 dogs, respectively. So it doesn’t come as a shock that both teams ended up on the losing end of their games Wednesday afternoon in Philadelphia. On the other hand, La Salle went into UD Arena in Dayton as +12.5 underdogs and pulled off a massive upset against the defending A10 champions. Here’s a round-up on the action on the day before New Year’s Eve:
VCU 80, Saint Joseph’s 64
VCU is already a tough enough out as it is with their tenacious defense, this time in the half-court as opposed to what most know them for which is a havoc, full-court press style defense that creates a ton of turnovers. Turns out, you can still create a ton of turnovers in the half-court as St. Joe’s ended up committing 25 turnovers against the Rams on Tuesday.
“We’re not a team that just generally turns the ball over that much so I have to believe that it is VCU,” St. Joe’s Head Coach Billy Lange said. “It’s tiny things, not coming to jump stops in the lane, not chinning a basketball, trying to throw a pass through the lane with your chest, not stepping, pivoting, but they cause you to have to be really good at that, so I don’t want to be like ‘It’s just us’ because that’s not true, it’s VCU, but irregardless of the things VCU forces you to do, you have to be fundamental and we’re just not all the way there yet, we need to get more consistent with that.”
Lange is right in that assessment, the Hawks are about middle of the pack when it comes to turnovers in all of Division-I, 14.6 turnovers a game, they’re not putting up 20 turnovers a game, VCU forces 18.33 turnovers a game, good for 22nd in all of Division-I.
When you watch VCU’s defense, it’s intricate and pretty fun to watch. Close-outs, clogging passing lanes, finding the drivers and shooters, and plenty of traps in the half-court.
“They might’ve not trapped us at 90 feet from the basket, but they were definitely trapping us at 60 feet from the basket,” Lange said. “They make it very challenging because you have to come back to the ball and you’re moving the ball and all of a sudden you’re trying to get into your offense and your players, you don’t know what positions they’re going to be in because of the way they trap and the way you have to rotate the ball.”
“I think what they do to you in the back-court can cause disruption in the front-court.”
With star guard Ryan Daly out due to an injury to his left hand (Lange would say in regards to an update or a timetable “He’ll be back when he’s back”), the Hawks need to find someone to step up offensively and if this afternoon’s game is any indicator, Dahmir Bishop might be able to step-up.
Bishop got off to a blazing hot start and would finish with a game-high 20 points on 6-18 shooting and 4-8 from three.
“I thought he did a nice job of stepping into his shot,” Lange said. “He’s worked really really hard on his three-point shot since coming to Hawk Hill and we still think we can get more out of him and we want more, but we also realize this is essentially his first year of college basketball.”
Bishop and his teammates are going to have to do a bang-up job at filling in the shoes of Daly and his 17.2 ppg because man does he bring a lot to the table.
“Experience, scoring, confidence, rebounding, he’s one of the best players in probably all of college basketball at this stage,” Lange said. “I’m not saying he’s a first-team all-american but he’s one of the best players, just by his experience and his confidence so when you lose that, it’s hard to adjust to that.”
After losing Daly to injury, the Hawks bring back three important pieces in Greg Foster Jr., Cameron Brown, and Myles Douglas. Douglas made his season debut for the Hawks today and finished with four points in five minutes, both coming at the stripe.
“With the injury that [Douglas] had, the most important thing to avoid that again is strength and stamina,” Lange said. “Just to have him out on the floor today and his versatility was great, but we got to be very mindful that we don’t want another setback, we can’t afford another setback and neither can he.”
The loss drops Saint Joseph’s record to an ugly 0-6 and you may think, yeah 0-6 is not pretty to look at, but let’s dive deeper.
The six opponents that St. Joe’s faced are as followed in chronological order with their KenPom rating in parenthesis: Auburn (65), Kansas (7), Drexel (152), Villanova (3), Tennessee (8), VCU (56). All six teams are in the top half of the KenPom rankings which ranks teams from 1-357. Also take into account that they have been without Douglas, Brown, Foster, and now Daly for those games and the 0-6 doesn’t look as bad, it’s still 0-6, but they’ve played some teams that will be vying for a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament and will be some of the favorites to take home the title.
“Anytime we can point to the need to be fundamental, the need to be detailed, the need to attack on defense, it’s good, and we believe that every game provides us that, with a young team,” Lange said. “I feel like that we’re growing up, we’re learning a lot, I’m learning a lot, this is the level that we want to compete here at at St. Joe’s so everything we do from recruiting to player development, to style of play has to point towards a perennial team in our conference and in the country so there’s no second-guessing on that.”
“I still feel like the guys are learning, they’re tuned in, they’re great, the guys have been awesome, I feel for them because not winning can challenge their spirits but I’m encouraged by their spirits.”
SMU 79, Temple 71 It seemed like whenever Temple would attempt to make the game close, SMU always had an answer. Three-point daggers, mid-range jumpers, everything was falling for SMU, which is why they shot 52 percent from the field. "Just bad close outs," Temple Head Coach Aaron McKie said. "They were beating our close outs and I thought they did a good job of moving it and sometimes they got caught up against the shot clock and they made some tough shots late, but I thought if we could've done a better job of closing out to those guys and keeping them sideline/baseline, we would've been much better off allowing those guys to get to the middle of the floor." Defensive woes were the name of the game for Temple on Wednesday, a lot of their problems stemmed from knowing shooter vs. driver as McKie would say in his post-game press conference. "I thought our problems came with knowing shooter vs. driver," McKie said. "Sometimes we rotated off the shooter to go running to the driver and the driver was passing to the shooter and the shooter was making those shots, we had too many bad close-outs where they were beating our close-outs getting to the middle of the paint and they were converting on that, we also had live ball turnovers where they got some easy layups early on, so we're still a work in progress in that understanding the gameplan, shooter vs. driver and keeping people out of the middle of the paint, I feel if we clean those little things up, we'll be much better, we'll limit teams from shooting high field-goal percentage." On the offensive side of things, it wasn't the worst game in the world for the Owls. They ended up scoring 71 points, but on 37 percent shooting and 29 percent shooting from deep. "I would've hoped that the shots were going in," McKie said. "I thought we took some rushed shots, I thought we settled, I thought this was a nice that we could really attack the paint on these guys and we just settled for too many threes in my opinion." "Before the game, at halftime, we just talked about attacking guys," McKie added. "Be aggressive and attacking and I thought we did a better job, a much better job in the second half but it's how you establish yourself, you want to come out and establish yourself, being a team that can get to the free throw line enough." Brendan Barry led the team in scoring with 17 points including five three-pointers. Damien Dunn also chipped in with 15 points before fouling out. Temple's next contest is against Memphis on Saturday at home, and maybe, the Owls can take some good shots, and not the rushed ones. "I thought we took too many contested threes," McKie said. "It's something that we have to continue to work on, we're playing with good pace, we're sharing the ball and we're taking the good threes, the threes that we want to take, not the rushed ones."
La Salle 67, Dayton 65
It was 1999 when La Salle last beat Dayton in UD Arena, the person writing this was two years old at the time.
Fast forward ~21 years and now the Explorers and Ashley Howard have a signature win to their name after taking down the defending A10 champions 67-65.
“It’s a building block.” Howard said. “As we are building this program, you have signature wins. This could be a signature win for us here. I think our guys are going to use this as motivation to keep building and keep getting better. If they can do that, we’ll have more of these to come. Great win for the guys, great win for the program.”
After starting off the game freezing cold and going down 16-2 on the road, the Explorers clawed their way back to make it a 5-point deficit at halftime.
As the second half rolled on, La Salle got out to a 6-point lead, which would be their largest. But Dayton eventually went on an 8-0 run to take a lead.
In the past, La Salle would be put into that situation so many times and a lot of those times where the momentum would hit them like a brick, they would fold. Not tonight in Dayton.
La Salle stayed in it the entire second half and as the game was dwindling down, Clifton Moore drained a jumper from the elbow to put the Explorers ahead by two with 2.1 to go. After that, it was curtains. Moore would finish with nine points and 10 rebounds.
“We wanted to clear the floor and open it up for Ayinde (Hikim), so he could get downhill and get into the paint.” Howard said. “We had a shooter ball side. We told him ‘If you get stuck just pivot and try to get a shot up at the rim.’ He got stuck, but he turned and found Cliff, and Cliff hit the shot.”
“I am so happy for [Moore] because he has been through a lot.” Howard said. “He transferred to La Salle, then he suffered an injury last year that didn’t allow him to do much in the summer in terms of preparation. I think an opportunity like tonight is like the basketball Gods rewarding him for the work he has been putting in. He stepped up huge and made some plays, he was good defensively in the middle of the zone. Hopefully he can build on this and keep getting better.”
Hikim himself stepped up big-time in this game off the bench, scoring nine points on a perfect 4-4 shooting.
“I’m proud of Ayinde.” Howard said. “He hasn’t been playing as much, and we got him out there and he changed the game for us. He played with energy, he was active, he got us paint touches. What he brought to the team today was unbelievable. He changed the game.”
Sherif Kenney was the leading scorer for the Explorers with 14. Jack Clark had 12 points, and Jhamir Brickus had 11.
Up next for La Salle is a date with Fordham at home on Saturday at 6:30 on NBCSN in which there is a good chance that La Salle can start A-10 play 2-1.
“I tell the team all the time ‘Win or lose, the focus is on ‘Are we getting better What can we do to keep getting better?’” Howard said. “We are going to go back and watch film. There are things that we can do to get better. We have to prepare for Fordham. We have to protect the house and continue to get better. I hope we can use this game to stay inspired and trust the process of building this program.”
Dayton isn’t who they were last year, a team that featured the National Player of the Year in Obi Toppin, but they are still a top 4-5 team in the A-10 regardless and if you are a La Salle fan, you have to be satisfied with the victory. Howard rolled with the young guys throughout the game and they stepped up in a huge spot on the road when they could’ve folded. If that’s any indicator of how this team is going to look, the Explorers might surprise some folks.
“Everything starts with believing.” Howard said. “We tell our team ‘You guys have to understand that you have to go out here and just believe that you can do it. Because you guys are capable.’ We are talented. We have the pieces. We just have to go out there and show improvement. Now I hope that we can continue to build on it, and use this win to use as a stepping stone to get better.”