Jared Leveson (@jared_leveson)
The casual fan may confuse the Malian twins Hassan and Fousseyni Drame when the two share the court together. They are both 6-foot-7 and play a defensive-oriented game with an endless motor.
One could say they are identical.
However, there was no confusion at Tom Gola Arena on Tuesday night. Hassan may have started his second straight game, but Fousseyni dominated off the bench and tied his career high of 22 points in 73-60 win over Queens University (NC) in a showcase game for the Jersey Mike’s Jamaica Classic.
With the ball in his hands, Fousseyni moves at a smooth pace. His physical presence and footwork inside is complemented well by his touch around the rim. The senior marketing major shot 56% from the field and went 3-for-4 from the charity stripe.
Fousseyni’s offensive dominance is not that consistent. Over his career, Fousseyni has averaged 6.8 points per game. He is known for his constant effort on the grittier sides of the game — defense and rebounding.
La Salle senior Fousseyni Drame matched a career-high with 22 points on Tuesday. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)
The Saint Peter’s transfer had another superb showing on the defensive end and on the glass. He gobbled up five offensive rebounds out of eight total, recorded two blocks, and four steals. It just happened to be his night offensively, as well.
“I never go to the game thinking that I will be the focal point of the offense,” he said. “I always go to the game with the mindset that I am gonna be defending.”
“The type of team we have, we know our defense creates our offense so that was my mindset. At the end of the day you have to take pride on the defensive end.”
The Explorers tormented the Royals all night. They switched on screens and caused havoc. Fousseyni and his teammates forced Queens into committing 24 turnovers. Those turnovers were then converted to 22 points for La Salle.
La Salle coach Fran Dunphy and his coaching staff have opted to rotate Fousseyni and Hassan in the starting five from game to game because the two virtually play the same way. Fousseyni got the start against Villanova. Hassan started against Wagner and Queens.
“I think they are interchangeable in everything that they do,” Dunphy said. “So there is not a lot to choose from who does what better.”
“It's not analytics. It's not scientific. It's just a gut reaction to putting them in the situation that they’re in. It's the reaction of the coaching staff. We sit down and decide who might be best served in a given game.”
The beauty is that neither brother seems to mind.
“To be honest I personally don't care if I start or don’t start because my mindset is one thing, to win,” Fousseyni said when asked about the rotation with his twin brother. “Maybe next game he [Hassan] will be the leading scorer.”
“We have a team that anyone can step up on any given day.”
Fousseyni stepped up and provided the offensive production normally attributed to Josh Nickelberry. The senior guard from Fayetteville, North Carolina scored six points on 1-for-10 shooting. Nickelberry was scoreless for much of the game and struggled to find open looks all night after scoring 22 and 20 points against Villanova and Wagner, respectively.
“His presence alone is good for us,” Dunphy said about his senior guard. “Because people key on him and they’re not looking to get him any wide open jumpers. So he adds a lot, even if he’s not making shots.”
The Royals’ game plan shutdown Nickelberry, but it opened the door for Khalil Brantley to continue his success on the offensive end. Brantley scored a career-high 22 points against Wagner and dished out six assists.
The sophomore from Brooklyn built off last game’s performance and shot 47% from the field and finished with 18 points on Tuesday. He also continued his generous ways and added six assists.
Brantley and Fousseyni shined in a critical moment down the stretch.
Queens went on a run to cut the Explorer’s lead to eight with under seven minutes to go. Brantley fed Fousseyni in the post where the 6-7 forward double pumped and finished through contact for the and-one bucket. Fousseyni’s three-point play kept the La Salle lead at 10. From then on, the Explorers never lost their double-digit lead.
Fousseyni was happy during his post-game press conference, but like how he shares life’s triumphs his twin brother, Hassan; Fousseyni attributed his entire team and coaching staff for his career night and La Salle’s second victory of the season.
“I get to perform this way because of my teammates, no matter what,” Fousseyni said. “I will always give them the credit. Basketball is a game of the collective. One person cannot do anything by himself. So, I give all of the credit to my teammates.”