By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Moral victories in February don’t make anyone feel better about a tough loss. But to ignore them entirely would be far to sadistic given the state of things in Billiken basketball land.
Saint Louis University lost their second straight game, this one to the #6 Dayton Flyers, by a score of 71-66. But this version of the Billikens was far closer to the ones that fans had become accustomed to. For the second time this season the Bills took their conference rival to the wire and proved to everyone that they are a team who can compete with just about anyone.
They bounced back and competed, they played hard nosed, tough, Team Blue basketball. A far cry from whatever appeared on the floor at Chaifetz Arena just three days prior. Jordan Goodwin led his team into battle, playing through an apparent toe injury that left him struggling to move effectively from around the 12 minute mark in the first half.
“I just knew I had to find a way to help my team” Jordan said in the tunnel after the game just moments after finally getting the injured appendage wrapped and iced. “I couldn’t move well for a little bit…and I never stopped feeling it, so for the first little while I just focused on getting back on defense.” But that didn’t stop him from having another 20-point night, coming up with clutch shot after clutch shot for the Bills down the stretch.
“I haven’t seen that competitiveness and focus and sense of urgency in a long time.” Travis Ford said, “We’ve won games, but I don’t think we played particularly well lately, but I saw some of that competitive nature that we need to live by. That’s needs to be us if we even want to give ourselves a chance.”
The ultimate undoing for the Billikens was the inability to put together a full 40 minutes of basketball. After getting the Flyer lead down to four with just over a minute to play, the Billikens got reckless and allowed Dayton to extend that lead all the way out to 8 before the end of the half. And while they at one point took the lead in the second half despite the early deficit, all the effort in the second couldn’t outpace the mistakes made in the first half.
The game itself was plagued by bizarre pacing and an overall lack of flow thanks to officials calling a combined 39 fouls. Both Travis Ford and Flyers Head Coach Anthony Grant had something to say about the officiating post-game, with the consensus being that the officials negatively impacted the game for both teams. The Billikens were in foul trouble all night long, taking 23 fouls and having five players with three or more fouls each.
“It just felt like tonight our back was always against the wall because of fouls.” Travis Ford said of the games overall pacing, “It’s hard to get any rhythm. And they were calling a ton of fouls both ways. Unfortunately, we had our best guys in foul trouble most of the night. It’s tough on us, for us to even be in the position we were was a positive sign.”
The primary takeaway from this game is that the Billikens have the talent to play with the best teams in the conference. They lack the maturity or focus to do so every game. But it appears the Bills have at least mentally turned a corner when understanding the effort and competitiveness it takes to win in the conference.
“I’m super proud of my guys and how we’ve bounced back” Hasahn French said after the game, “We came out and really showed a great effort…If we are playing like this on any night, we can beat anybody. We’ve just got to come with this same energy every day and come away with more confidence after today.”
After what the team captains called a “unacceptable performance” in their last time out, the team responded with a signature high energy, mentally tough performance. Travis Ford called his young team “experienced freshmen” because of how many minutes many of them have received. Jordan Goodwin defined that experience based on how many different environments this group has played in at this point. To receive a gutty team performance in the most hostile environment they have seen this season, after being mentally torn down just three days earlier, speaks to some growth.
Bruce Wayne’s trusty Butler, Alfred, tells us, “Why do we fall down? So that we can get back up again.” The Bills fell hard Wednesday and getting up like this is worth praise. Now they must stay up. Just because they have lost a few games does not mean the season is over. Last year the Bills lost four in a row early in the year, went 10-8 in conference play and were still in contention for the double-by in the tournament up until the last day of the season.
There is lots to play for, and this may be a turning point we all look back on fondly.