By Chuckie Maggio
Today at 9 p.m., a nationally televised contest will take center stage in Olean, N.Y. as the 11-7 St. Bonaventure Bonnies host the 11-6 LaSalle Explorers. The Bonnies look to snap their three-game losing streak while the Explorers hope to continue their five-game win streak. The game will be televised on CBS College Sports Network.
Last year, these teams played an overtime classic at the Reilly Center, with LaSalle winning 69-66. That kind of close battle may take place again tonight, coming down to the wire. Who will have the upper hand? Let’s break it down!
St. Bonaventure: Mark Schmidt. 99-102 as St. Bonaventure coach, 3-5 vs LaSalle
La Salle: John Giannini. 154-144 as LaSalle coach (10th season)
Key players for La Salle:
Tyreek Duren – 6-0 senior guard. Leads team in scoring with 14.1 points per game. Streaky shooter. Team is 10-4 when he scores in double-digits, 1-2 when he fails to score ten or more. Led team in scoring during their Sweet 16 run in 2013.
Steve Zack – 6-11 junior center. Leads Atlantic 10 in rebounds per game with 9.7 while adding 10 points per game. Excellent defender with good mobility and agility for a big man—more than capable of getting a double-double on any given night, which can make him a nightmare for opposing coaches to game plan against. Marketing major with high basketball IQ.
Jerrell Wright – 6-8 junior forward. Complements Zack in the post with 12.9 points per game and 6.1 rebounds a contest. Shoots very well from the field shooting 58.6 percent. Gets to the line often but struggles to convert; only making 56 percent of his free throws this season. Wright is a powerful defender who boxes out well and has great fundamentals on both sides of the floor.
Tyrone Garland – 6-1 senior guard. Second on the team in scoring with 13.9 PPG while averaging 2.3 assists. Transfer from Virginia Tech with excellent scoring ability and defensive play. Last year, his first at La Salle, his Southwest Philly floater with two seconds on the clock beat Ole Miss and carried the Explorers into the Sweet 16. Has the potential to make a big impact on this game with his playmaking ability and quick first step.
Keys to Victory:
St. Bonaventure: The Bonnies have a couple crucial keys if they hope to win this game. The first is perhaps the most obvious: they need to have a strong second half. Anyone who has watched a Bonnies game this year knows they’ve jumped out to a great start and struggled in the waning moments. Dion Wright even brought that up in last week’s feature story. They’ve lost their seven games by an average of 6.5 points, which means they simply have to finish. If they jump out to a lead going into halftime, that lead has to be sustained by playing hard and smart for 40 minutes.
The next key is for Charlon Kloof to avoid early foul trouble. The last few games Kloof has picked up a couple quick ones and been forced to sit for a while. His importance to this team is unquestioned. He’s the senior leader, and this team goes how he goes. It would be great for Bonaventure’s chances if he could play the whole game without foul trouble, only being subbed out when he physically needs a breather. If No. 3 is on the court, the Bonnies have a great shot at victory.
LaSalle: For La Salle to win in the hostile Reilly Center, they need to win the rebounding category. When you beat Bonaventure on the boards, you usually win the ballgame, and the stats back it up: in the Bonnies have been outrebounded in five of their seven losses this year.
Another key for the Explorers is to get a strong game out of Steve Zack. If Zack can control the glass and give Bonaventure’s forwards fits, La Salle is in good shape and the Bonnies are in trouble. He and Youssou Ndoye both run the floor well, which should make for a good center battle.
The Prediction: A 9 p.m. game in the Reilly Center just seems like a disaster for La Salle. The Bonaventure Wolfpack will be in full force, and they’ll be ready to heckle the Explorers right out of the gym. Charlon Kloof and Marquise Simmons will come ready to play, Tyrone Garland will be contained by the Bonnies’ D, and Mark Schmidt will win his 100th game as St. Bonaventure coach.
St. Bonaventure 72, La Salle 63