By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
With just over ten minutes remaining in the first half, with the Billikens down a bucket to the Rams, East St. Louis native Terrence Hargrove Jr checked into the game.
TJ, as he prefers to be called by the people around him, has not always had the most clearly defined role on the team. The one-time top prospect and marquee signing of the 2019 recruiting class was relegated to the bench and did not start his college career with the ‘bang’ many expected. But in this game, Terrence had a role to play.
Hargrove checked into the game and joined three other St. Louis natives to make the Billikens big run in Friday night’s primetime affair. Jordan Goodwin, Yuri Collins, Javonte Perkins, and Terrence Hargrove all populated the floor with the lone import being Hasahn French. That lineup came together and set Chaifetz Arena on fire. For the first time in his tenure at SLU, Terrence Hargrove was a member of the team’s best lineup.
With each moment more exciting than the last, fellow STL native Yuri Collins orchestrated a 17-point run that helped pull the Billikens ahead. Everyone adding a pivotal moment into the stretch. Hargrove’s dunks, Goodwin’s put-backs, Perkins’ sharpshooting, and French’s post play. Yuri Collins weaved the offense to his will and put the Billikens up for good, all while grabbing a career-high, and NCAA freshmen high 12 assists.
This game was a statement victory for the Billikens. The offense ran wild while the defense showed unique, organized looks that confused the Rams just enough to create and maintain separation.
For the first time this season, the Billikens put forth a complete 40-minute effort, where they commit to the scouting report from tip to buzzer. The Bills zone perplexed VCU because it forced them into playing to their weakness of three-point shooting. Meanwhile, the Bills knew they could use their athleticism to get out in transition, getting 14 transition points and 8 dunks. For the first time all season, it seemed like SLU was driving the play style and not the other way around.
Every member of the Billikens contributed something to the win. From top to bottom, the Bills played a complete game on route to their 19th win of the season.
Travis Ford said postgame he was proud of not only his team’s all-around performance but with the way the team responded to adversity. “Everybody played at a high level. I was proud of responding to our last…the episode, or whatever you want to call it. We responded from that, which is good to see. I guess the guys got the message.”
The win over a formerly ranked team, and a still very respected team nationally, speaks as a statement to the ability and potential of the Billikens. “Well, we’ve proven we can play with anybody, but we haven’t proven we can do it every night.” Travis Ford said in his postgame remarks. “We need to start taking all our experiences and put them into what makes us great.” They have played tight games with the best of them but have had no consistency against weaker teams.
This was an excellent example of the Billikens using their resources to their advantage. Yuri Collins said pregame Travis Ford told him he should be excited for a match-up like this, the opportunity to run and gun and rack up assists. Terrence Hargrove had a similar message, being able to use his athleticism to dominate the low post. The Billikens played to their strengths to make things work. Hargrove is not always a nightly staple on the floor, but to have his skill set at your disposal, and utilize them to the fullest, is excellent coaching and game plan execution.
Moving forward, the Billikens players will need similar performances like the one Friday night to continue an unlikely run into Brooklyn. The difference between Friday night and the collapse in Amherst against UMass was playing to the scouting report. The win over VCU was the results of when an excellent scouting report meets a team capable of, and committed to, utilizing that report. SLU hasn’t always been able to do that, but it is encouraging to know they have the ability and personnel to do so.
SLU won a crucial game regarding seeding in the conference moving forward. It was also a big performance in proving their capabilities to their home fans and themselves. It is far too early to be scoreboard watching in the conference, but they will likely sit in a tie for 5th exiting the weekend. Things could be worse for the Bills right now, but the win over VCU keeps the dream alive.
Every night the Bills have to prove themselves moving forward. Mission accomplished vs. VCU.