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Billiken report card: Trend of slow starts continue, but the Billikens hang tough and edge out rival Salukis 69-60

The Billikens are 7-1 through their first 8 games, the best early-season mark in the Travis Ford era, and the best opening 8 game stretch since 2011-2012…a season that resulted in an NCAA tournament appearance.

That’s the good news.

The not so good news is that the Billikens struggled mightily in their matchup with Southern Illinois- Carbondale, a team which they should have dominated from tip-off. Yes, a win is a win. But for a team whose priority is development, they did not play up to their abilities. They played down to their opponents’.

For their third game in a row, Travis Ford’s team found themselves in a hole to start the game, going down 10-0 before Gibson Jimerson was able to cash the first basket for the Bills three minutes and forty-five seconds into the game.

Head Coach Travis Ford made it clear that he didn’t feel his team has yet put together a full forty minutes of a game. They have shown the ability to put together great defensive efforts, and some great offensive outputs, but in each of their wins they have had trouble accomplishing a certain aspect of the game.

In this case, the Salukis did an excellent job in taking the game to the Billikens and pressuring them all afternoon long. Travis Forded admitted to not being prepared for that and lauded his opponent for their ability, calling them “tough” and “gritty”.

The Bills did though find themselves in the second half after, as Jordan Goodwin puts it, Travis Ford was, “Getting on us early in the locker room”, which helped the Bills discover their flow and play up to their potential.

The slow starts the Billikens have gone on have been survivable against teams like SIUC but will be far less forgiving in the trio of games the Bills have next on their schedule against Tulane, Auburn, and Kansas State. It will be imperative to find their flow early, and at the very least, not spot experienced teams leads early in the game.

Despite the poor performance, the Billikens are 7-1. When the season started it would have been easy to believe that the Bills would have dropped a game to a weaker opponent due to their inexperience. They are 311th in the nation in experience out of the 353 D1 teams. But this team has found ways to win games despite their performance at some points.

They at the very least, deserve credit for that. 

SHOT CHART

What you see here is just Southern Illinois shots.

Travis Ford said postgame that his plan was to limit SIUC’s three-point opportunities, thinking that would be the only way the Salukis could keep themselves in the game. Well, that worked very well, the Billikens limited the Salukis to just the one made three-pointer. Indicated by one white mark on the right-side elbow.

What clearly did not work was anything else. That game plan allowed SIUC to penetrate and get easy looks at the basket, nabbing 15 layups and a handful of other shots around the key.

This was ultimately the problem in the game. Travis Ford attempted to implement something new and it just didn’t work. Ford said he “apologized” to his guys for that and simplified the offense and defense. A move which lead to success.    

REPORT CARDS

Javonte Perkins- 5 Stars

In a first half where the Billikens couldn’t figure out an offense. Javonte Perkins came to the rescue. Putting up 14 points on 5-7 shooting including 5 free throws. Perkins highlighted his ability to create open looks for himself around the hoop. Even when he was seemingly drenched in defenders under the rim, Perkins was able to use his length to contort himself around the pressure and find available space. And then even when there was none, he absorbed contact and completed the shot.

Most importantly, when he was given free chances on that contact and went to the line, he made them.

The only way Javonte plays these minutes is if he proves himself on D. He looked confident and responsible on that end. Unlike his first appearances where he was still looking unsure and out of place.

Javonte is starting to reach his potential earlier than expected, a welcome sign for a SLU offense that struggles. 

Demarius Jacobs- 3.5 Stars

The sophomore has had a really up and down season. He’s both put up 20 points in a game, and also been completely invisible.

Demarius is at his best when his confidence peaks early in a game. If he gets a bucket or a steal in the first 6-7 minutes of the game, he feels allowed to start inserting himself into the game. He showed flashes of that confidence in the Carbondale game.

When he feels confident enough, Demarius can be a space maker and a slasher who has an excellent finishing touch. The major issue is that I don’t think he feels empowered to do that just yet. He had it tonight, but in order to be a contributor, he cannot go two, three, four games without being a presence in the game.   

Gibson Jimerson- 3 Stars

Gibson has had better nights. That being said if tonight is his floor, most will take that. Gibson nailed his three’s and provided energy in that sense. He has shown the ability to be dangerous beyond just the three pointers, and on days like these where he really does nothing else on offense, it’s tough to say he had a “great” game.

After a really tough defensive first half, he returned to form in the second and played 17 minutes. Gibson has played himself into a situation where he can be judged more critically, but as a freshman, he continues to be a vital member of this team. 

Jordan Goodwin- 4 Stars

Three double-doubles in as many games is why Jordan Goodwin is part of the big three of this team. Jordan cleans up the glass better than maybe any guard in the country does and is perhaps the most unique player in the conference.

That being said, much like Gibson, expectations on Jordan and deliverables from him change the way he is to be evaluated. He is not a role player, or a key piece. He is in many ways “the team”. So, despite his eye popping stat line of 19 rebounds, Jordan’s efficiency (especially in the first half) can sometimes lead to empty possessions.

It’s hard to blame Jordan for forcing shots, he is often the release valve used to get an attempt on a possession that was otherwise going nowhere and so his stats reflect that. However, sometimes that forced shot mentality trickles into non-dire moments and the Bills suffer.

It’s a nitpick, but an important nitpick to see if the Billikens are going to figure out their offensive woes. He was far more selective, and less forcing of his game in the second half and the team’s offense showed it.

Even on his “bad” nights, Jordan is a star for the Billikens. So, despite the criticism, he had an excellent game.

Hasahn French- 4 Stars

French was a rebound shy of a double-double and had a dominant defensive presence as per usual. Tonight, was not his night for spectacular offensive output, but he very quietly still added 15 points while being his regular self, getting 2 blocks and constantly altering shots in the key.

When you have Jordan Goodwin and Javonte Perkins going off, sometimes all you need to do is play your role. Hasahn did that perfectly.     

Final grade

So. The Billikens earn a B- from me. A win is a win, and they showed resolve and the ability to  change their approach in the second half, but truly this shouldn’t have been as close as it was.

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