Preview: Men’s basketball at La Salle

Media Credit: File photo by Madeleine Cook | Senior Staff Photographer

Redshirt junior guard DJ Williams passes the ball during Saturday's game against Richmond.

Who: Men’s basketball
Where: Tom Gola Arena, Philadelphia, Pa.
When: Wednesday, Jan. 16 at 8 p.m.

After splitting its last two games at home, men’s basketball (5–11, 1–2 A-10) is headed to Philadelphia to take on La Salle (3–12, 1–2 A-10).

The Colonials suffered a 20-point rout at the hands of Richmond in their last game that saw them sink just 25 percent of their shots in the second half, while La Salle most recently fell 71–64 to Saint Louis.

While both teams have the same Atlantic 10 record, the Explorers are still on the hunt for their fourth win of the season. The team’s few wins rolled in on a three-game hot streak capped off with a win over Massachusetts to open A-10 play, but La Salle enters the game against GW having lost the last two games.

When the two teams faced off at the Smith Center last year, GW came away with an 80–69 victory. GW’s top scorer in the contest, 2018-graduate Yuta Watanabe, is no longer rostered for the Colonials, but graduate student guard Pookie Powell tallied 16 points for the Explorers last year and is averaging 17.3 points per game this season.

Case for the Colonials:

The Explorers have one of the most forgiving defenses in the A-10, allowing opponents to shoot 46.7 percent from the floor this season, which ranks them nearly last in the conference.

GW should look to spread its scoring effort across multiple players to overwhelm a weaker Explorers defense to come away with the win Wednesday. Sophomore guards Justin Mazzulla and Maceo Jack and redshirt junior guard DJ Williams have had high-scoring games since A-10 play opened, and sophomore guard Terry Nolan Jr. was the Colonials’ top scorer against Richmond with 15 points. The team will look to the four players to shoulder a large portion of the team’s points Wednesday.

In GW’s most recent wins, the Colonials managed to get multiple players in double-digit scoring – and should look to do the same against the Explorers.

La Salle and GW are the two teams with the lowest field goal percentage in the conference at 40.2 and 40.1 percent, respectively, so the game’s outcome will be determined by which team can find quality shots from the field.

GW’s weaknesses were exposed in the second half against Richmond when the team exhibited streaky shooting and sluggish play. To return to Foggy Bottom with a win against La Salle, the Colonials will need to significantly improve their accuracy from the floor.

Case for the Explorers:

All three of La Salle’s conference matchups so far have been determined by fewer than 10 points, so the team has shown it can keep up with tough competition.

Powell has led the charge for the Explorers and is the team’s most accurate shooting starter with a 42.9 percent field goal average. Against Saint Louis, La Salle managed a 23-for-55 effort – good for 41.8 percent. Those improved numbers could be enough to outperform GW if the Colonials find themselves in a shooting and defending rut similar to the one against Richmond.

Since A-10 play began, La Salle has also been as good from beyond the arc as the team has been shooting overall. The Explorers are shooting 37.1 percent from the three-point line in their three conference games while going 38.5 percent from the floor.

GW has not defended three-point shooting well throughout the season, allowing opponents to average a 36.7 percent clip from deep. Junior guard Isiah Deas will likely be the biggest asset for the Explorers in this regard, boasting a 42.5 percent three-point shooting average. If the Colonials cannot limit his shooting, he will pose a significant scoring threat.

The Colonials will likely rely on gaps in La Salle’s defense to create as many shots as possible, which means the Explorers will need to tighten up their defense against GW to hold them off. If La Salle smothers the ball and forces GW to take bad shots, it is unlikely the Colonials will be able to score consistently. La Salle has held opponents to a 40.5 percent field goal percentage in conference play – better than its season average – and if the Explorers’ defense aptly disrupts GW on offense, it could spell trouble for the Colonials.

Bottom line:

Neither team has posted strong shooting numbers this season, and Wednesday’s contest will be decided by who can find a consistent rhythm from the floor. But the Explorers are averaging more points per game than the Colonials, posting 69.6 points per contest compared to GW’s 64.0 points per game, so La Salle has the upper hand on offense.

La Salle has improved both its offensive and defensive numbers since entering A-10 play, but if the Colonials are able to put together a strong game like the one they presented against Saint Joseph’s, GW will likely come home with a win.

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