After nearly upsetting Rhode Island on the road Wednesday, the La Salle men’s basketball team (6-9, 1-4 Atlantic 10, 2-2 Big 5) is officially in the latter half of the season. So far, it’s been a broken record of saying, “They played well, but…,” and a laundry list of fixable issues which for every one that gets corrected, another one pops up. As with any team, there are bright spots and there are areas that could use improvement, but these are the biggest takeaways from the season so far.

Clifton Moore a secret weapon on both ends

Clifton Moore is a senior, but he has truly come alive and shown his prowess on both offense and defense this season. At a formidable 6-foot-10 and 240 pounds, Moore moves with a rather unexpected grace and purpose. When the Explorers are on offense, he has exceptional control, along with a remarkable sense of direction and spatial awareness. He’s averaging 11.8 points and 6.5 rebounds. On defense, his physical attributes are a huge advantage. Often taller and broader than the players he guards, he blocks 2.6 shots per game with relative ease and nonchalance.

Khalil Brantley a star in the making

Every so often, a dazzlingly talented player will find his way into the La Salle basketball program. Far beyond just “good,” this player’s abilities will make the fans in the stands gape; his skill and style will be something opposition coaches tell their teams to keep a close eye on; he’ll remind people just how good the basketball program is. Ever since the scrimmage at La Salle’s Hoops Madness event, it was obvious that Khalil Brantley was shaping up to be that player. He’s still only a freshman, but the 6-1 guard has taken on a starting role and, averaging 8.3 points, has already laid a solid foundation to become a standout player for not only La Salle, but also in the A-10.

Too much individuality, not enough cohesion

Coach Ashley Howard has acknowledged it, and watching just about any Explorers game will show it — more often than not, there are one or two players who carry the offense. During the season so far, there have been few games where the team has put in a cohesive and seamless group performance. While it’s promising to see players have excellent games, the missing piece is having games in which all five players on the court perform their best.

Explorers have battled

Although the Explorers don’t have the best record against A-10 rivals this season, the performances against these programs have improved. Howard is fond of describing his team’s games as “battles.” This team has shown an admirable amount of fight and determination up until the very last seconds. It’s not deterred when it doesn’t have the lead. Its bench is vocal and supportive throughout the entire game. No matter what the scoreboard, there has yet to be a loss this season in which La Salle hasn’t gone down swinging.

Likely another learning season

Although it’s always the goal to snag that elusive A-10 title, it’s not looking likely to happen this year. However, Howard’s fourth season at La Salle has marked a significant turning point. By bringing in new talent like Brantley, junior transfer Josh Nickelberry (team-high 12.3-point average), and bringing out the best in players such as Moore, Howard has established himself and has a clear plan for what he wants La Salle basketball to look like.

In the past, Howard has expressed that one of his biggest long-term goals for the program has been to establish an uncompromising identity. While this season might not be the one that bestows championship glory on this team and immortalizes its players as the ones who put the program back on the map, it’s an essential brick in the opulent palace Howard looks to build at 20th & Olney.