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Billikens get a wakeup call in Pittsburgh, lose 73-59 in A-10 opener.

The Billikens got a rude awakening Thursday evening. In their first A-10 game of the 2020 season, SLU got straight up outclassed by Duquesne Dukes and dropped their opener 73 – 59. The loss comes as a rude awakening to a team that needed every win it could get if it wanted to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive. I called the game a must-win in my game day preview and still believe that. Fortunately, the A-10 is deep enough that this may not bury the Bills early, but it was certainly a harsh blow

For the first time this season, the Billikens did not answer the bell and find a way to step up. Duquesne is a team that on paper, and in the scouting report, the Billikens have every reason to believe they can and should beat. The results on the court did not match what fans had come to expect through the non-conference season start. The Billikens defense looked soft and their offense more unorganized than normal. Nothing was working for Saint Louis; the ball simply wouldn’t go in the hoop. They struggled to finish inside and couldn’t bail themselves out from deep. Worst of all, when the Billikens were struggling to get buckets, but then were keeping themselves in it on defense, the Dukes were able to hit an array of unlikely shots to keep themselves rolling and keep SLU at an arm’s length.

Credit to Duquesne and their Head Coach Keith Dambrot. The Dukes came into the game with a clear game plan on defense and confidence on offense. They proved to be a legit threat in the A-10 should they be able to continue shooting the way Carry and TDM did all evening. They clogged the paint and made things incredibly difficult for Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French to get anything going. Michael Hughes went for 7 blocks and Bills really had no solution to cracking the code.

The most successful option the Billikens had was the pick and roll dump in and dish out between Jordan/Yuri, Hasahn, and whoever was on the wing (most typically Javonte Perkins or Tay Weaver) which lead to multiple open looks from deep. But nothing came of them more often than not. The Dukes were more than happy to leave that look open if it meant stopping Hasahn.

On defense, the Billikens looked extremely unlike their typical physical, tough, selves and far too often looked confused. In the first half, the Billikens seemed to have a handle on their team defense and made the Dukes work hard for every single opportunity given to them. But that changed in the second half.

The Dukes bailed themselves out of a lot of possessions with great shooting from their tandem of guards and way too often the Bills were allowing easy access to the basket and then fouling when falling behind the defender. The Dukes made some sort of adjustment at half-time and the Billikens simply were not able to match their pace.

The biggest difference in the game can simply be boiled down to a 4-minute stretch to open the second half when the Dukes were able to open up a 13-point lead on the back of strong shooting and poor Billiken decision making. At every turn on defense, the Bills made the wrong move. A turnover in the paint, a charge, a bad/forced shot early in the shot clock, everything. Not even mentioning the free-throw shooting, the offensive decision making in this game was truly the difference for the Billikens. They allowed the Dukes to break out and create a lead for themselves, and while they bent a little when the Bills cleaned up their act and closed the gap to just four points, they never broke and that’s all they needed to do.
Travis Ford post-game called it the worst they’ve played all season, including Seton Hall. He’s not wrong, but with a little hindsight and perspective (and a night’s sleep) the actual result of the game wasn’t as frightening as it initially seemed to be.

There was never a moment in this game where the Bills felt completely out of it like against Seton Hall. They shot themselves in the foot time and time again, they couldn’t hit water if they fell out of a boat in terms of shooting, and their D looked as bad as it has all season. They were still absolutely in the game down the stretch…on the road. Save for a horrendous 3 to 4-minute stretch to open the second half, the Billikens very well could have won the game, albeit ugly, despite how poorly they played.

So, what have we learned? There are problems the Bills need to sort out and film sessions on decision making, shot selection, and help-side rotations will help that. But this Billiken team has earned the benefit of the doubt so far in terms of their tenacity, toughness, and desire. They bounced back after getting knocked out by Seton Hall. A wake-up call may be the perfect thing for the Billiken team right now to set them straight-headed forward.

Saint Louis will have the opportunity to prove that this performance was a fluke Sunday when they host UMass for their A-10 home opener. While UMass doesn’t carry the same hype that Duquesne does right now, it will say a lot about this teams character based on how they effectively they bounce back.

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