By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
A minute into this afternoon’s game, things did not look good for the Billikens. A foul, a La Salle three, a turnover, and then another La Salle three and the Bills were looking at the wrong side of a hot start.
“I had to call that early timeout just to get things settled down and back on track” Travis Ford said about the early struggle. After the timeout and the reset, Javonte Perkins came into the game for the first time and went out and got to work.
For a long time, there have been rumblings from fans asking why Perkins hasn’t been starting. After this game, that question begins to become more and more valid.
Perkins has become the dominant scoring threat the Billikens need to keep themselves in games. Scoring 20 points or more for the 6th time this season the difference with him and without him has become as clear as guys like Goodwin, French, and at a time Jimerson. The gravity he attracts from other defenders opens things up for everyone and most of all he makes his free-throws at an above average rate. It is nice to have weapons come off the bench and keep the pressure on, but at a point it becomes necessary for a change. The Bills are not starting games as well as they’d like, perhaps time to mix things up.
After that blip and once Perkins came into the game, the Billikens went on to put on one of, if not their best, first half performances of the season. They played extraordinary defense, moving well and supporting each other when necessary. The offense was clicking, the ball was moving and looks at the basket came easy.
All in all, the Billikens looked like, well, who they are supposed to be. The Bills had lacked a truly signature performance where they dominate. They had played well against strong teams, won big games, and won games against weaker opponents. But never had they truly dominated a team they should have. They went to overtime last time they played the 2-10 La Salle Explorers, and played to the wire with the Fordham Rams and the St. Joes Hawks.
Getting a dominant win over a lesser team is good for this team’s mentality and proves they can do it.
In the second half of this game though, the flow completely fell off. After just 16 fouls being called in the first half, the officials came out looking to ‘control the game’, calling 11 fouls before the 16-minute media timeout mark. All in all, 36 foul calls were made in the second half, or just less than two a minute over the entire half.
The result was the game completely slowed down which allowed La Salle to reenter the game, narrowing the Billiken lead from 21 at the half to as few as 11 at points in the second frame. But while SLU bent they never broke and kept the Explorers at an arm’s length. Never letting the result of the game come into question.
The win comes after spending a week away from game play, something Travis Ford has been vocal about not loving. “We haven’t always responded well after taking time off…after Christmas it took us four or five games to get back to that high level we were at”
“We tried to use the time as efficiently as we could, get in for some individual work. Get back to basics”
The extra work seemed to do the trick as the Billikens came out not only looking sharp, but some players added different features to their game we haven’t seen before. Tay Weaver, the three-point shooting star, was attacking the rim and cutting to the inside more and more often and the Explorers really had no answer for it. Demarius Jacobs similarly was used far more effectively as a ball handler in press break situations and in on-ball defender.
The Billikens will need to continue to grow and change the way they play in order to be successful. “At this point in the season, everybody knows each other.” Travis Ford said after the game, “Everybody knows what everybody else is doing, I could invite La Salle into practice the night before and they wouldn’t learn a thing because they’ve seen what we do.”
Evolution then is important. If you can continue to grow and change the ways you are dangerous, the more you can continue to keep teams surprised. Which is clearly valuable, as displayed against La Salle.
Since the home loss to Duquesne just a couple weeks ago, the attitude of the locker room has changed. The leaders of the team have convinced the entire room to focus on the final 6 games and the importance of nabbing each of them. You hear the same things no matter who you talk to, “we just focused on these final 6 games.” If this game result is the type of performance you can expect now that this group is mentally on track that bodes well. But they are in for some challenges. There is no weak opponent in the A-10, and UMass is up next.
It’s time for this team to get rolling. This was a great start.