By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
For the first time this season, the Billikens put together a full 40 minutes of two-way play. The final score reflects that as Saint Louis came out early and pounced on the Tulane Green Wave. They broke their string of slow starts, built a 7-point lead…and never let it go.
Travis Ford’s team executed an air raid the likes of which the program has never seen before. Nailing a record-breaking 17 threes on route to the 86-62 victory over Tulane at the Air Force Reserve Jerry Colangelo Classic in Phoenix, Arizona.
The Billikens have had a tendency to play up and down to their opponent thus far. A forgivable sin, when considering their inexperience and that they have found ways to win. But yesterday was no such example of playing to their opponents’ level.
I made it clear in the game day preview that I felt Tulane was a far better team than their rankings suggest. I stand by that. KJ Lawson was the real deal, and Tulane is more talented a team than their 200+ ranking suggests. That being said, the Billikens were simply a far better team and played up to that.
Setting the program record by drilling those 17 threes is obviously a fantastic feat. But what was far more impressive was the method the Billikens took to reaching that mark. They were incredibly efficient, shooting a staggering 60.7% from behind the arc. It was not as if the Bills decided to launch threes all afternoon and happened their way into the record. They went with the flow of the game, moved the ball well, and made open shots when they were there. Tulane spent most of the afternoon daring the Billikens to shoot by dropping into a 2-3 zone. Demarius Jacobs, Gibson Jimerson, and Yuri Collins cracked that in an instant and punished the defense.
Some nights those shots won’t go in. Some nights there is just a lid on the rim. But the method they took to get to those shots was encouraging and repeatable. The Billikens can shoot. They have the talent to break a zone, and force teams to, at the very least, respect them on the perimeter. Travis Ford wants opposing defenses to make a choice of who to guard/where to prioritize their effort. The shooters, or Hasahn French. French has proven to be a reliable option in the paint, so Tulane made the call to prioritize him. That didn’t work.
Moving forward, teams will have a harder time making that call, and that could allow the Bills more freedom to operate. But they will need to continue to make those shots at a high rate to prove they are real. If they do, the Billikens will have a far higher ceiling than anyone could have projected before the season.
This shot chart is the entirety of the Billikens offense and I really don’t have much else to say. A program record for three’s made speaks for itself. The Bills punished the Green Wave for playing off the line and into a zone. The Bills looked more comfortable than ever breaking the presses thrown at them and maneuvering around the zones shown to them. They showed a maturity far beyond their years.
Hasahn French- 5 Stars
Travis Ford defined French as an “absolute warrior” in his post-game remarks. SLU seems to have a bug going around, as Hasahn was apparently under the weather coming into this one, and still feeling the effects of that bug throughout the game. You’d never had known though because Hasahn was his typical dominating self from the tip-off, putting up 18 points, 11 rebounds, 5 assists.
What stands out most about Hasahn right now is how much better he makes everyone around him while still being a singularly dominant focal point. He is the focus of every team’s defense, but his passing and decision making make it impossible to sell out on him. He is a game-changing shot-blocker, but his communication skills and mobility make it feel like he is everywhere at once.
Every game it feels like Hasahn brings more and more to the table, and as conference season approaches. It’s hard not to see him as a potential first-team or POTY type of guy.
Jordan Goodwin- 5 Stars
Jordan is starting to get the national media attention he deserves in terms of his rebounding capabilities. There is really no question anymore as to who the best rebounding guard in the nation is. Jordan is a multi-faceted star. He is the emotional leader of the team, adds playmaking (5 assists), and can, on any given day, be the scoring leader when called upon. None of the Bills success over this stretch is possible without J-Good.
Yuri Collins- 5 Stars
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve been tough on Yuri in these report cards in the past. It comes from a place of understanding how vital a role he plays in the offense. Despite being a freshman, he has been handed the keys to this team and told to drive as fast as he can. If Yuri can develop into the premier point guard his potential indicates he can be, the Billiken offense will be stable so long as he’s on the floor.
Yuri holds the ball on every possession, his usage rate is going to lead to turnovers and so long as he manages to limit them and most importantly limit the timing on them, having a handful of turnovers is acceptable given everything else he is doing for his team. Which is effectively make everyone on the floor better.
The STL native makes things go for the Billikens this year. His teammates know it, his coaches know it. It’s only a matter before the rest of the country knows it as well.
Gibson Jimerson- 5 Stars
Jimerson is arguably the most dangerous player the Billikens have for opposing defenses. Which is saying a lot considering Hasahn French exists. He troubleshoots a lot of problems the Billikens offense can find itself in, and his decision making has justified the coaching staff’s green-light for him.
Gibson doesn’t take bad shots. He doesn’t hesitate when it’s there, even when on traditionally unusual three-point opportunities, but he also knows when to move it along and try something new.
Demarius Jacobs- 5 Stars
SLU has two different players that go by the name of Demarius Jacobs. One is confident, the other is less so. When Demarius is confident, he does so much for this team. Spacing the floor, driving to the hoop, ball handling, initiating the offense, breaking presses. The list goes on.
When he is less confident, he is virtually invisible.
Demarius is an unexpected X-Factor to the lineup. When he’s confident and asserting himself into the game, the Billiken offense can simply be too much for some opposing teams. Teams have to make choices as to who they guard. If Demarius can consistently be the type of player he has shown he can be (and was against Tulane), the Bills have too many tools to be guarded effectively.
Demarius proved himself a capable shooter. Will he sustain shooting 85% from three? Probably not. But he is a weapon, and the Bills need as many of those as they can get.
So. The Billikens earned an A+ from me. The Bills are at their best when each member of its rotation is making each other better. Demarius and Gibson space the floor, so Yuri has more room and options to guide the offense, so Hasahn and Jordan can operate freely in the paint. Every member of the team played their role to perfection, and it resulted in an outstanding win.
This was the Bills’ most complete game of the season, despite the ‘lesser’ opponent. But if the Bills want to be an upper-tier team, they will bury those who aren’t up to their caliber. They did just that today.