By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Fred Thatch and Hasahn French only played six and five minutes, respectively, in the first half. Eleven Billikens saw the floor in the first half, seven of which winded up on the score sheet. It was the bench depth on this night that built the 11-point lead heading into half time.
It was also the Bench that squandered it in the second half.
Foul trouble is what ultimately caused the Billikens difficulties. In the first half, the bench depth, led by Yuri Collins, was able to build and maintain a lead. But as the game stretched on that same bench depth started to blink.
The swing ultimately came on a single possession with about 10 minutes to play in the second. Valpo called a timeout after cutting the lead to 8 with Crusader head coach Matt Lottich charged up about their chances to make a comeback.
He was right
Valpo came out of the timeout in a 2-3 zone, and the Billikens seemed helpless. The free-flowing, movement-based offense that earned the Bills offense 44 points in the first half disappeared. What was left behind was a team stationary on the offensive end and looking for answers.
The Crusaders were able to cut the lead to as little as 1 with just under seven minutes to play, but that was as close as the Crusaders would come. Missing seven consecutive free throws down the stretch, Valpo could not seize the game and take what the Billikens were giving them.
But it wasn’t until the two-minute mark when the Billikens were able to take back full control of the game and secure the victory. The active defensive and responsible offensive play of Yuri Collins, Jordan Goodwin, and Demarius Jacobs were enough to ice the game and improve the Billikens record to 2-0.
While it is just two games into the new season. The defense for SLU is proving to be a problem. Travis Ford said it best in the post-game presser Saturday night when he said, “We’re playing in spurts, either really good or really bad.”
The Billikens too frequently allow easy paths to the basket. Part of their chosen identity is defensive intensity. But they are at times overzealous and put themselves out of possession trying to get a steal or a block when containing or challenging would have sufficed. On the flip side, SLU has displayed the ability to play disrupting, chaotic, and suffocating defense. The talent is there, the consistency is not.
The Bills still need to find a happy medium or to understand how to pick their spots better with their aggressive play.
The bright side of this game is that they still got the win, a win against a team that may be far better received late in the season than they are right now. SLU got the early season test that they needed, all while not dropping a what has to be considered a sure win. Learning how to win is essential, and the Billikens showed they knew how to handle themselves down the stretch.
The one thing the Billikens did exceptionally well tonight on defense was to enforce their game plan of limiting the Crusader’s opportunities to take three-point-shots. Valpo showed hints of their ability to dominate the game from deep, but the Billikens did well to force them off the line.
Going into the game, the Billikens staff expected the crusaders to put up around 30 three-point attempts. Limiting them to just 17 is a definite success, even if it’s as small as proving to be able to execute a game plan.
Goodwin, in a basketball sense, was excellent as per usual tonight for the Bills. 22 points, 9 rebounds, 6 assists, and 3 steals all in crucial minutes show Jordan is the clear leader of this team. But what truly separates him from others is how clear it is Jordan’s leadership skills and overall understanding of the “process.”
Late in the second half, with the Billikens leading just four points and the game very much still in jeopardy, the Billikens huddled for a timeout. In that huddle, Jordan told the team, “This is the best thing that could happen to us.” Goodwin explained post-game, “I just felt like we needed this, we had a bad practice Friday, and we got a little comfortable…we won by 20 against Florida Gulf Coast, and we were still riding high on that win. So this is what we needed, to humble ourselves down and get back to the basics and see how heard we gotta play to win a game.”
Jordan’s awareness of the larger picture and how vital a challenge is to his team’s long-term success displays wisdom beyond his years. Jordan’s calming influence in the face of struggle is a valuable asset to the Billikens and ultimately won the game for the home squad.
It wasn’t until after the game that we found out something had happened behind the scenes to get Demarius motivated. Until Travis Ford told us about a 1-on-1 meeting that occurred Friday, it merely appeared that Demarius came into the game more confident than he ever had.
The sophomore pulled up for three twice in the first minute and added 8 more in the first half to bring his total to 15. Jacobs had only scored 15 points in his career to this point. Playing downhill all night, Jacobs had his best performance of his career and proved why he deserved to be a starter for this team moving forward.
In the exhibition game and the opening night win over Florida Gulf Coast, Jacobs had been virtually invisible. He wasn’t bad by any means; he simply didn’t make an impact. So, Travis Ford set the tone for Demarius, who said post-game, “He challenged me to affect the game in multiple ways, if it’s not scoring get a rebound, play defense.”
Demarius rose to the challenge to impact the game more and deserves to be celebrated for it tonight. Though, I am curious to see how that challenge affects Demarius long-term, and how he responds to those challenges when his shot isn’t going down.
Yuri continues his strong play and is starting to show himself fully capable of leading this team’s offense alone in situations where the Big 3 aren’t present. In the lone 3 minutes of tonight’s match where Goodwin, French, and Thatch were off the floor, Yuri operated independently and looked completely comfortable doing it.
He had a tough night guarding the Valpo backcourt, especially Daniel Sackey, who was as quick as a hiccup, as Leigh Anne Tuohy would say. But everyone had a tough night doing that. What was encouraging is that as the game went on, Yuri seemed to get more and more comfortable with the pace and started adapting to pressure and playing tighter D.
Yuri is a solid guy on defense, and an excellent passer, but his most exceptional skill is looking to be his mind. Yuri adapts quick to the offenses coming at him and quicker to the defenses he faces. Tonight, all four of his field goals came off the same play, drive right from the top of the arch around the defender, cut back in and float a layup with his right hand.
Yuri recognized a weakness and attacked it. That kind of skill set is going to be effective against any opponent they face this year.
The sophomore played a vital role in tonight’s win and proved a few things about himself along the way. On most nights, you probably hope that KC doesn’t get 22 minutes a night, but it’s nice to know you have that in him should Hasahn French get into foul trouble.
By no means a perfect game for Hankton, but one that he proved he is willing to do the gritty things for his team to win basketball games. KC took two charges tonight, and two more of his fouls were attempts at taking charges that just didn’t work out. He battled underneath the rim despite not being the premier rebounder some others on the team are and provided a reliable offensive option on two different levels, having some nice touch from under the hoop, as well as getting to the line on a three-point attempt.
A great night for the big man to build off of going forward.
Fred Thatch and Hasahn French
Plain and simple, in order to be able to help the team win the game, you have to be on the court. Fred and Hasahn took themselves out of the game tonight by getting into foul trouble. I haven’t gone back over the fouls called on them, and while yes, some of them may have been soft or unwarranted. The two have to learn that on a night the officials are calling everything, they need to play differently.
For example, twice Hasahn French was called for a foul while attempting an over the top, volleyball like spike block. When defending straight up would have sufficed when he had 2 or 3 fouls already. The second of the occurrences lead Travis Ford to exclaim that “We don’t play very smart defense.”
In addition to the six and five minutes the two racked up in the first half, they only added eleven and 12 minutes in the second half to their game log, both playing just 17 minutes. Saint Louis is going to lose a lot more games than they win if two members of the Big 3 aren’t able to contribute.
On the one hand, it was a really ugly second half from the Bills. On the other, they did get the win, and Jordan Goodwin is right; there is a lot to learn from this kind of experience. Growing pains happen, but they are a lot easier to swallow when you win the game. So, the Billikens earn a B from me.