By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Billiken report card: SLU takes care of business, improves to 3-0 in 22-point blowout of Eastern Washington
It wasn’t always pretty, but the Billikens did what they needed to do Wednesday night, topping the Eastern Washington Eagles by the score of 82-60. Despite the opening few minutes being questionable on offense, the Bills led for over 37 minutes. As the game progressed, the Billikens asserted their will in every way, dominating on both ends of the floor.
The potential trap game was met by a Billiken team who showed no signs of overlooking an opponent and proved themselves to be a group that will A.) Beat the teams they are supposed to beat, and B.) Play up to their potential, rather than down to someone else’s.
In the opening 10 minutes of the ballgame, SLU looked like their 2018-2019 season counterparts. Sluggish on offense, scoring just 12 points, and suffocating on defense allowing just 8. The Bills finally turned the corner in the latter part of the half and never looked back, putting up 70 points in the final 30 minutes of the game.
The offensive surge helped the Billikens get to 80+ points in three consecutive games for just the first time since the 2000-2001 season. The win could have been even more dramatic, but Travis Ford opted to pull his starters in favor of giving valuable playing time to his freshmen in need of development. For a couple of minutes towards the end of the game Billikens coaches and fans alike got the opportunity to look into the crystal ball and see their future play out with a lineup of Yuri Collins, Gibson Jimerson, Terrence Hargrove, Jimmy Bell Jr, and Madani Diarra.
Despite the 22-point victory, the Billikens took no time to revel in the victory. Coaches and players alike were clear they still feel they need to get better if they want to compete late in the season. Travis Ford said “We’re not where we need to be defensively. We’re not. I’d even venture to say we’re not even close to where we need to be defensively. Or rebounding, I’m not happy at all with rebounding…They got 16 offensive rebounds. Unacceptable, it’s not going to work. There’s a long list, there’s a lot of room for improvement.” Fred Thatch added in his post-game presser that he feels his squad has yet to play its best in any part of the game, adding, “but we will be scary when everyone gets going.”
The Billikens have taken care of business against the trap game and can now move on and prepare for their biggest test of the non-conference schedule. A home matchup with Seton Hall, the #12 team in the country, and an opportunity to make its first real statement of the 2019-2020 season.
Fred Thatch is a consistent, intelligent, reliable defender. If there was to be a criticism for him on that end of the floor is that his eagerness can sometimes lead to unnecessary fouls. The true genesis of Fred’s game though is on the offensive end.
Fred’s jump shot has improved, he had a few very pretty jumpers fall for him tonight and if he can continue to improve that end of his game, the A-10 better look out. But what Fred did best tonight was confidently drive the basketball and take charge of the offense when it started to look stagnant. Fred told me after the game he feels at least partially obligated to take on more responsibility as an offensive threat given, he’s “one of the older guys”. Fred got to the line 5 times tonight, making 3 of those tries, but more importantly activated the offense in times of need. When the game was still undecided in those first 10 minutes, Fred took charge.
11 points, 6 rebounds, and 1 assist, steal, and block in 22 minutes is a pretty great night for the sophomore from Sikeston.
Tay Weaver and Javonte Perkins
Tay and Javonte’s strong shooting was what put this game away in the end of the first half. The two transfers have the opportunities to be game breakers for the Billikens, providing diverse bench scoring and defensive intensity.
While Tay to this point has shown more, this is to be expected to an extent. Tay’s Division 1 experience makes the transition to SLU a little simpler. Javonte is making a bigger leap and has more adjustments to make. I don’t think we’ve seen Javonte’s full ability yet, but there were glimpses of Javonte’s game available for all to see late in the first half when he expertly broke down the EWU zone to find easy mid-range jumpers. Javonte’s quick trigger, and fluid stroke in the open floor shows just what he could be once he makes the adjustments and feels more confident at the D1 level.
The two combined for the final twelve points in closing the first half and showed just how deadly an offense the Bills could have on their hands if or when everything starts meshing. It’s been a long time since the Billikens had a band of hired guns on offense, guys who can come in and get the offense clicking when it stalls, but the firm of Perkins and Weaver are starting to show what that can look like.
Yuri’s style of play making and efficiency on both ends makes its really difficult to take him out of the game. The freshmen added 11 more assists to his tally tonight, his first time in double figures. The total brings him up to 25 assists on the season and makes him just less of a quarter shy of the freshmen record for assists at 113…through just 3 games. Yuri watch is on for the remainder of the season, and if I were a gambling man, I’d take the ‘yes’ on will Yuri set the freshmen record.
French is the most dominant force the Billikens have. He answered the bell after fouling out in the Bills last game, responding with 19 points on 9 of 11 shooting. He could have had more but the big man left the game early after going down with a gruesome looking calf cramp, and by the time he returned to the bench the Billikens were running out their freshmen squad. Hasahn is not expected to miss any time, but a worrisome trend appeared for Hasahn tonight.
Hasahn’s free throw shooting is a problem, the whole teams is, but with Hasahn being the offensive focal point his struggles stick out a little worse. Late in the first half EWU Head Coach Shantay Leggins told his team in the timeout “any foul on number 11 is a good foul.” Hasahn’s game style is one that is going to get him to the line, if he cannot reliably shoot it from the charity stripe, a lot of his tools will be taken away from him as defenses will simply opt to hack at him rather than defend.
The most concerning aspect is it appears the problem is mental more than it is physical. After missing his first set of foul shots, Hasahn’s form seemed to regress, and his confidence visibly shrank. I have seen Hasahn take free throws in the practice gym and he looks perfectly capable to take free throws.
The rest of the team
What was really evident tonight is that no one had a ‘bad’ night. Saint Louis as a whole played a collectively solid game and got better as time went on. The Billikens have a lot of growth to do in order to be a great team, but for the third game of the season no one stuck out as to having a poor night.
Travis Ford likes to remind everyone that the depth he has on this team is only valuable if it is “good depth”. Being able to play 15 guys on a given night and have 13 of them put up points indicates to me that on this night in specific, the depth was good.
Having the ability to mix and match lineups to get the hottest players out there is a luxury Travis Ford has yet to have in his tenure at SLU. We saw just what that can look like going forward.
So. The Billikens earn an A from me. Really strong night, with room to grow. The Bills took care of business, they didn’t overlook their opponent. Now they are in for their first real test of the year.