Ironically enough, there was really no better game for the Billikens to be stricken by the injury bug than Tuesday night’s matchup with Maryville. Playing without, arguably, two of its three most vital players in Hasahn French and Gibson Jimerson, the Billikens were given all they could handle by the gritty Saints. If they had played almost anyone else, they would have been in far deeper trouble.
Despite ending the game with a convincing winning score of 82-69, the path to that victory was ugly and nerve-wracking. For a game whose betting line closed with the Billikens as the 49.5-point favorite, it wasn’t until the final minute of the game when SLU was able to open a sustained double-digit lead.
Credit to Maryville, the group played an extremely scrappy, grind it out style of basketball, and hung tight with Travis Ford’s crew despite the extreme talent gap. They made a ton of shots, both of the wide-open and heavily guarded variety, and ultimately rose to the occasion of playing a D1 rival.
Maryville played well above their heads, and the Billikens played below theirs. Coming off a string of excellent performances by the Bills, especially the one in Auburn last week, a critical problem, per se, of this group is starting to emerge more clearly.
The Billikens play both up and down to their opponents. The nightly output of this group is inconsistent with their abilities. Part of this is having an extremely young group. While the problem is not one that extends to each and every member of the team (Jordan Goodwin, for example, does not have an off switch), it is a problem they will have to overcome. They may grow out of it at some point, such as the nature of maturing as both an athlete and a person, but right now, it’s a problem.
On the bright side of this game, the Billikens were able to see some feature performances. When a lot was going wrong, Freshmen Terrence Hargrove Jr. was an unlikely revelation. Jordan Goodwin continued his double-double streak, and Javonte Perkins continues to prove he can be a featured weapon on offense when things break down.
Despite the confusing nature of how games against Division 2 teams are measured, the Billikens are 9-2. But this was far too close for comfort to call it a “victory.”
The Billikens really missed Gibson Jimerson Tuesday night as the 2-3 zone killed the Billikens for most of the night. This is SLU’s shot chart and the struggles from deep are apparent. Despite the zone, the Billikens found ways to get inside but considering how good their shooting has been in recent games, it was a disappointing perimeter game. Sometimes shots just don’t go down. That happens, but when the opportunities are handed to you like these you want to take advantage.
Terrence Hargrove Jr- 5 Stars
It was the TJ Hargrove show all night in midtown, and he makes his first appearance in these report cards.
Terrence put forward an excellent spark plug performance and dazzled the Billiken faithful, all of which were loudest for him. Of his 6 dunks on the night, each more spectacular than the last, Terrence was the only Billiken who was able to find the basket easily in the first half and showed all the tools on offense that were promised in the offseason. He clearly has a knack for putting the ball in the hoop and proved to do so in multiple ways.
Terrence showed energy and grit, the staples of Travis Ford basketball, and while he did still look a tad slow and out of place on defense, the growth is apparent. Terrence has gone from virtually unplayable to potential role players this season in a single semester.
So, will Terrence immediately get more playing time? Yes. How much more? A little. He’s earned the right to battle out there against tougher opponents. In Travis Ford’s eyes, he’s made the leap into understanding the defense better so to be competent enough to get an opportunity out there.
It’s not a binary thing: he’s not going to not play, and he’s not going to play all 40 minutes. However, there is a role on this team for Terrence right now. If he can rise to that role and add another piece to the puzzle as they head into the conference season, the Billikens will be one of the most dangerous teams in the conference.
Jordan Goodwin- 5 Stars
For the sixth consecutive game, JGood had a double-double and did so with ease. From a pure basketball sense, Goodwin’s value to this team is obviously immense. But his role as a leader is what makes him irreplaceable. In the second half, when Hargrove and Maryville’s Parker Long got into a shoving match, Jordan was the first guy into the scrum to pull his freshmen out of the mix and calm down the situation. In a moment that could have quickly escalated, and no one would have blamed him for backing his teammate up, Jordan had the presence of mind to pull things back down and clear the situation. He even appeared to calm down Travis Ford, who was irate until hearing Goodwin’s explanation.
Jordan’s maturity and leadership skills are what make this teamwork. Even on a night when the Bills did not play their best, Jordan’s performance is constant.
Yuri Collins- 4 Stars
On multiple occasions, Yuri gave up an open look that eventually leads to a simpler, better shot. There are some nights where the game seems to move in slow motion for the point guard, and this was one of those games. Yuri had four points on zero field goal attempts but had seven assists. Each one of them of note, including two spectacular lobs to Hargrove that had the building rocking.
Yuri saw the game two steps in advance of everyone else and looked like game-changer on a night the Billikens were missing two key players. He rose to the occasion.
Javonte Perkins- 4 Stars
Javonte may be the only player on this team who can legitimately score at all three levels reliably. He doesn’t demand respect in any particular area as French or Jimerson does. Still, he challenges every defender differently and forces you to play him in a particular way. 7-18 isn’t the efficacy you would like to see at the end of the night, still, in the context of the game, he really didn’t take a ‘bad’ shot or have a possession where you really hated that he took over on offense.
When Javonte decides to be ‘the guy,’ very little stops him. He can get his shot anywhere on the floor. He played 37 minutes playing solid D and adding 4 offensive boards. But (if I had to nitpick), the next step for Perkins is recognizing when a more natural shot for a teammate comes from the thing he created.
Every game Javonte plays in his ability becomes a little clearer, and Travis Ford’s team needs a guy like this.
Jimmy Bell and Demarius Jacobs- 2-3 Stars
What is most frustrating about these two is how boom or bust they can be. The booms make you feel like they can be top-end talents, and the busts make you question how impactful they actually are. Jimmy looked lost on the low block when he should have physically dominated. And Demarius made one shot on 6 attempts (all three’s) and was invisible otherwise.
The pair are both clearly capable of being high-quality role players on this team, they’ve shown that multiple times this season, but consistency is very crucial. Demarius gets more leeway as he’s proven to be very capable on defense, but he can’t be invisible.
So. The Billikens earn a C from me. Any win is good, but again, this one was not pretty.
The Bills have the chance to bounce back and play for a more solid win in Kansas City over the weekend. They will have to shed their Maryville performance quickly and move on and up. SLU has played themselves into a situation where the K-State game now sees them as the unlikely favorite.
They may be understaffed again as the status of Hasahn French and Gibson Jimerson is still up for debate. But they cannot afford to drop this kind of game given all the momentum they’ve gained.