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Cleon Roberts fueling La Salle's offensive surge

Cleon Roberts has had an instrumental role in La Salle's offensive turnaround.

Following a last minute loss to Temple at the Palestra, La Salle coach Dr. John Giannini finally admitted what many were thinking about his team: it was afraid to shoot the ball. And he did not know why.

The Explorers were in the midst of a four-game losing streak in which their highest offensive output was 70 points in a blowout loss against Villanova. Their offense was sputtering in all aspects.

What changed? Even Giannini has no idea.

"I don't know why a player who takes thousands of shots a day would say, 'I'm going to practice it, but I don't want to do it in a game,'" Giannini said after La Salle's 84-67 trouncing of Penn Tuesday night at Tom Gola Arena.

While Giannini saw how good they could be if they just shot the ball, it seems they needed some time to get comfortable playing with each other.

"We never really played basketball together coming into this season," senior center Steve Zack said. "We had three guards and [were] bringing in three new guys. Now, that chemistry is really starting to click - we know where each other is going to be on the court."

Roberts has been the catalyst of the Explorers' newfound love for shooting the ball. The lanky guard has significantly increased his offensive output since the Temple game on December 6.

"Cleon has been shooting it more readily - and obviously better," Giannini said bluntly.

Roberts made it clear that he has taken Giannini's message to heart.

"Coach has been telling me to shoot the ball, I was just hesitant at first," Roberts said. "I've been getting in the gym every morning and getting confidence... The more confidence I've got, the better I've been shooting it."

Since the Temple game, Roberts has shot the ball 43 times in five games, which is more attempts than he had in the first eight games of the season combined. He is averaging 11 points a game in those five games, and La Salle has a 4-1 record in them.

His newfound scoring ability has opened up the floor for the other Explorers to find their groove - especially Price, who's now the city's leading scorer.

Price has been finding the net efficiently and effectively since Roberts' rise. In his last five games, he is 34-for-72 from the floor, averaging 22.8 points per game.

Roberts' rise has created room not just for Price on the perimeter, but also for Jerrell Wright in the paint, because teams cannot double down inside as easily.

Zack is among those who see the impact across the floor.

"All I know is that Cleon will now take an open three," Giannini said. "I have no idea why good players wouldn't shoot the ball. I will never understand it - all I care about is that their performance has changed for the better."