Coming into Wednesday night’s matchup at Chaifetz Arena, the Billikens were looking to get their mojo back. After getting blown out like they did Sunday it’s easy to lose your confidence, and for about 6 minutes in the second half, that seemed to be what happened, but for the rest of the night, the Billikens simply did not look good.
The Billikens got a win, defeating the High Point Panthers 67-55, and that should be celebrated. They are 4-1 and they have found ways to win games they are supposed to win. But to ignore what happened in the game tonight would be foolish.
Saint Louis allowed a team to hang around with them and if the Billikens are as good as they believe they are, they should not have been allowed to. To the High Point Panthers credit, they are very well-coached, but the talent and athleticism disparity is so clearly vast the Billikens should have won this game by twenty, or, at the very least been dominant until they intentionally let off the gas pedal.
This win was more discouraging than the loss to Seton Hall. At the very least you can hold solace in being defeated by an excellent, veteran team. In this game, even when the preferred lineups were deployed the Billikens weren’t able to open a lead until midway through the second.
The Billikens have a toughness problem right now, and no I don’t mean they are big and strong enough; they do not play physically enough or with enough grit to be successful. Or at the very least, they do not do those things consistently enough over the course of a game.
On defense too many players, too often, sag off their assignments and relax off the ball leading to easy opportunities for teams to exploit and expose. There is a reason the Billikens allow as many open perimeter shots as they do.
Last season, the Bills under Travis Ford’s system were able to take a bruised, and less talented team out night after night and defensively pressure teams into oblivion. Travis Ford said it best after Wednesday night’s game saying of his previous teams, “There’s a lot of things we didn’t do, but you always knew you were in for a fight”.
Ford was blunt about his concern about the team saying post-game “I’m not happy with the toughness of the basketball team right now, I’ve been doing this a long time and my teams have always known to have some grit and toughness to them and we have not found that yet.” Coach later added “We got too much casual play going on, were to casual… That’s not the way we operate. Can’t pick and choose when we play tough. It won’t work.”
The solace and the thing to look forward to is that much of this team is young and has never learned how to be tough. Travis noted that 6 members of their roster have never experienced or been forced to play with the kind of grit he wants out of his squad. Toughness can be cultivated and learned, so it is not as if all is lost.
Again, despite all the doom and gloom, the Billikens won the basketball game. That is worth noting, and the team continues to find growth in other facets of the game beyond just toughness. The Billikens will take a breath before continuing their Gotham Classic matchups when they host the Belmont Bruins Saturday afternoon.
Hasahn French- 3 Stars
There was little doubt that Hasahn French wasn’t going to be remembered as one of the great Billikens of all time. But after tonight it is official. Hasahn French is the all-time leader in blocked shots. By the time his tenure at SLU is over, the record will solely be Hasahn’s with no one else in sight for a long while.
“Has” didn’t play the perfect game but he played well enough. He pulled down 7 boards and was back as the defensive stalwart he normally is. His offense struggled, putting up just 9 points on 8 shots, and missing 3 free-throws but Hasahn did his job.
That being said, if the Billikens want to succeed down the road, Hasahn needs to do more than just what is considered ‘good’. Hasahn lead this team on both ends of the floor, and while he was able to coast a little against a far less talented High Point squad, he will need to do more against stronger teams.
Jordan Goodwin- 5 Stars
It’s often difficult to say Jordan quietly had a really great night. The emotional leader of this team very rarely doesn’t make himself seen and heard in any game. But tonight, he was quiet. Jordan put up 19 points on a very efficient 8-11 shooting, adding in 8 rebounds and a pair of assists to his slash line. I knew Jordan was having a quality night, but it wasn’t until I looked up at the end of the game did I realize just how much he had done.
Jordan is the backbone of the team, Hasahn French post-game called him a “live wire”. Tonight, he was the model of team leadership, on and off the court. His on-court performance was clear from the stat line, but his bench presence is what had Travis Ford raving: “Jordan played as well as I’ve seen him play, his pace, shot selection, his leadership was off the charts…Really on the bench, I can’t say enough about him, the level of toughness…yea he lost the ball twice, but his positives far out way his negatives”.
Jordan Goodwin is a tough guy; he plays Travis Ford basketball and at times he carried this team through the mud last night.
Yuri Collins- 2 Stars
“Yuri quit relaxing” was heard way too often tonight on the defensive end. It was Travis Ford screaming at his freshmen point guard to play more intensely on his man and stop floating off on D. The issue got so bad that early in the first half, Ford went to walk-on Josh Hightower in an apparent attempt to “make a point”.
The night Yuri got the first start of his college career, was also his weakest night so far. While yes, he was quality on offense, he was nowhere near as impactful as he has been and matched with his defensive woes it made for a long night for the young Billiken.
Gibson Jimerson- 5 Stars
When you are a shooter like Gibson, you live by the sword and you die by the sword. The sword is your jumper. To this point in the year, Gibson has lived by his sword, and he thrived tonight. He made three first-half 3’s and added a smooth mid-range jumper. Gibson’s ability to add a shot when the Billikens offense goes quiet for extended periods is a valuable pressure release valve for the team. The freshmen got a career-high and game-high 25 points on 10-16 shooting while also being Travis Ford’s go-to defensive sub.
But what is most impressive about Jimerson to this point is his creativity on the offensive end that allows him to create open looks for himself. It appears Gibson knows every defense is going to be tight to him as a shooter, but he has the where-with-all to occasionally pull down the pump fake, drive past the defender and pull up for a mid-range shot. He is showing signs of being a more well-rounded, balanced offensive player while also being a strong defensive presence.
Being more than just a one-trick pony and developing more of that part of his game will make him a nightmare to guard moving forward.
Perkins and Weaver- 2 Stars
What is frustrating about the two transfers right now is that for about 4 minutes every game you see exactly what these two players bring to the lineup. Perkins has the ability to be a really great midrange threat, who can also get to the rim, whereas Weaver is ravenous on-ball defender and a three-point shooting threat.
What gets frustrating is that after that short stretch of standout play, one, the other or, most often, both fade to the back for extended periods of time.
Now neither of these two guys are the perfect player, no one is. Tay is still figuring out the defense when he is off the ball, and Perkins shot selection is questionable at times. But the two have yet to be real difference-makers of any sort for the Bills. Last night included, the two went for a combined -10 in 14 and 12 minutes respectively.
I still believe these guys, especially Perkins due to his extended eligibility, are going to figure out their game and become important role players for this team. But on nights like this one, against a team who they significantly outclass in talent depth, it’s tough to watch these older guys struggle.
So. The Billikens earn a C from me. A win is a win, but boy was it ugly.