Saint Louis “fought the good fight” and in a heroic finale moment by Fred Thatch, the Billikens improved their record to 10-4. Closing their non-conference play with a resume building win against the Rick Pitino led and MAAC championship favorite Gaels.
Here are 10 thoughts on the victory.
One – Learning How to Win
Amazing win in the final minutes. A cardiac finish punctuated by the Billikens versatility and depth in the lineup. Fred Thatch offers something very few players of his makeup do, and he seems to be becoming a pro at that particular play. By my count, I think we’ve seen him pull off that weak-side offensive put-back no less than eight times this season. It’s almost a set play for him, it feels like.
But getting to that point was a by-product of incredibly gritty, winning mentality basketball, which should be recognized. Despite a tough whistle from the officials, a physical wearing game, and a frustrating opening half. The Billikens showed resolve in the winning moments that they didn’t have earlier in the season.
Nothing highlights this more than Francis Okoro defending a post-up without fouling under 2 minutes to go as perfectly as you possibly can to get the stop despite having four fouls. Yuri Collins not giving an inch on a similar backdown against a complete mismatch and using his strength to force a turnaround fade away. Jordan Nesbitt flying in, nabbing an offensive rebound to extend a possession late.
The Billikens made winning plays down the stretch. That’s all there is to it.
Two – Winning in Multiple Ways
For a team with a top 50 offense nationally, the Billikens didn’t show much of that offensive firepower in this one. They shot just 34% from the field, 21% from deep. Instead, they won this game on the glass, out-rebounding the Gaels 48-34, including 21 offensive boards.
By being cleaner on the boards, limiting second-chance opportunities, the Billikens were able to keep the Gaels from building an insurmountable lead and kept the momentum in their favor.
By winning with multiple different skill sets, the Billikens may start to be proving that they are, perhaps, the most complete team in the Atlantic 10. A thought to be pondered on.
Three – Learning from the Past
While it didn’t exactly work out exactly as you would hope, it’s very clear the Billikens have a new approach to how they handle leads late in the game. I think this extends to their substitution pattern, but let’s cover this first.
After letting leads slip away in three losses to very good teams, the Billikens appeared to be less oriented towards ‘parking the bus’ and, as a team, pointed towards getting scores when the opportunity arises. Seizing the chance when, and only when, it’s there.
This was highlighted in two plays most memorably. Both are offensive rebounds. One was Jordan Nesbitt’s snag coming in from the shot side corner, grabbing the board, quickly relocating, and taking the wide-open 3. The other was Terrence Hargrove Jr’s unbelievable one-handed rebound and going back up for two.
Nesbitt’s miss led to an Okoro rebound and foul (to which he made both shots), so it worked out. But TJ’s miss was unfortunate despite pretty clearly getting a lot of contact and probably being fouled.
Either way, you’re not unhappy with either shot and, unfortunately, you missed. Still, instead of pulling it out and killing the momentum, they went for the kill, so to speak.
It’s fair to argue if that’s a good change. Still, I think seeing a difference after those earlier losses is encouraging.
Four – Adjusting on the Fly
The Iona full-court press and trap was incredibly jarring. Mostly because the Gaels are excellent at executing it, and the Billikens are prone to not moving towards the ball well.
They clearly started to figure it out though, getting more comfortable with it and adapting to its pressure. 12 First half turnovers compared to 7 in the second is one stat of note to identify. It seemed like the biggest solution was moving Yuri Collins to the inbounder spot and letting the bigger athletes like Nesbitt, Thatch, Hargrove, and even Okoro fight to make space to allow Yuri’s inbound passing to get to them before returning the ball.
It was nice to see them figure that out over time.
Five – Risky Lineups Burn You
Gibson Jimerson was a +13 tonight in a 1 point victory and played 35mins, including all 20 second-half minutes. He sat twice in the first for no longer than 2:41 at a time.
What in the world.
— S-Carter Chapley (@CarterChapley) January 9, 2022
Look at this tweet. How can five minutes burn you that bad? It appears that for a lot of those five minutes, the lineup was Collins, Jones, Strickland, Thatch, Traore. There’s just too much variation from the norm to be a really effective lineup against a quality team like Iona. I’m curious as to if Travis Ford looks at that stretch and makes a note that you can’t stray 3 pieces deep into your bench like that and put everyone in a position to succeed.
Six – Rotation Becoming Clear
We saw six Billikens get 20 or more minutes tonight, with no one else getting more than 5 save for Lassina Traore. When Marten Linssen gets healthy again, I’d imagine he would sort in as the 7th man there, and suddenly you have yourself the core rotation identified.
There is clearly a role for Lassina and DeAndre Jones moving forward (you’d like to see Yuri not having to play 37 minutes a night every night). Still, I think we understand what exactly you have here and what output to expect every night.
Seven – Big Game Jordan 2.0
Star of the game and didn’t even have a great night. That’s a major credit to Jordan Nesbitt and speaks to just how good he can become. Team leading 15 points, 5 rebounds, and an assist on just 3-11 shooting.
Impacting the game in the ways he does, with energy and intensity without quite having that consistent shooting touch. It’s incredible from a freshman. Once he finds that every single night, there is no stopping this train.
Eight – FREE THROW RENAISSANCE
Part of the Billikens problems from the Free Throw line was always who was taking them. Jordan Goodwin and Hasahn French took most of the chances from the charity stripe, and they just couldn’t seem to get out of their own head. JGood has figured it out in the pro, now shooting 73% in the G League. But in Serbia, Hasahn is 2-14 from the line.
Now there isn’t a guy on the floor who can’t shoot free throws. The worst shooter on the floor is 61%, and they average over 75% as a team. The Billikens lose this game in years past. But they win now by going 25/26 on the free ones. What a time.
Nine – Paint Problems
The Billikens went 12-30 at the rim and 5-14 on shots between three and eight feet in this game. The immediate finger to point would be at Francis Okoro, but he was great. Going 4-6 at the rim and 5-8 total. It was more on the guards who tried to barrel their way downhill into traffic. Collins and Nesbitt were 0-10 on that type of shot.
This has clearly worked for them in the past. So, it’s hard to know if it’s an aberration, but it’s something to track moving forward. Picking the spots is just as important as the ability to score them, and it seemed like tonight they were constantly going into the trees with reckless abandon. Not Ideal.
Ten – Hurry Back Marten
Nice to see Marten dress and show he’s close to coming back to play. But the Bills are going to really need him against Dayton. The Flyers have some of the best big man depth in the Conference, so being full strength against them will be vital. I’m sure FrankO is up to the test, but rotating guys to stay fresh will make things a lot easier. Get well soon!