By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
The Jewel of Midtown was rocking Saturday afternoon as the Saint Louis University Billikens got their first marquee win of the young season. Taking down an experienced and well-respected Belmont Bruins squad to the tune of 60-55.
Hasahn French was the star of the evening, setting two single-game personal bests, 24 rebounds, and 7 blocks while adding 21 points and 4 assists on the evening. The rebounding mark ranked as the third most in Billiken history. It tied for the most of any NCAA player this season, whereas the 7 blocks ranked second all-time by a Billiken in a single game.
The breakout game earned the Junior forward his first career A-10 Player of the Week honor.
In the performance, Hasahn showed all of Billiken nation and the rest of the college basketball landscape precisely what he could do on any given night. He proved himself to be a game-changer in every sense of the word.
The story of the evening beyond the spectacle that was French was the Billiken’s improved performance on the defensive end. Travis Ford said after the game of team performance that is was “by far the best defensive effort we’ve had.”
The Bills played the nitty-gritty, detailed oriented, defense that Travis Ford was looking for after their disappointing performance against High Point. Travis calls what this defense looks like “toughness”. The characteristics of the D are most apparent in the team’s commitment to sticking to their man and not sagging off, allowing smooth movement and passing lanes.
“It always makes a coach proud when you talk about things for two days and then the guys go out and do it…and all I’ve been talking about is toughness…we demonstrated toughness tonight.”
When they committed to this mindset in the tense moments of the game, the Billikens played suffocating defense. They allowed just one made field goal in the final 8 minutes of both the first and second halves.
Travis Ford has continued to show his keen eye in scouting and game planning his opponents, preparing his team-best for success. The Bills clearly had not only the defensive intensity upper hand all evening, but generally seemed to be one step ahead on defense all night. They were able to limit Belmont’s strengths in passing and shooting and forced them to play towards the Billikens strengths.
This is the defense they will need to continue with moving forward, but being able to lock down one of the best passing teams in the country is an excellent sign for this group.
What you see here is a particular shot chart…just Belmont’s shots. Red are misses, black makes. What is most apparent is the clear intention to push the Bruins off the line and into the paint. The layups and dunks make up a more significant percentage of shots compared to three’s than Belmont are used to, shooting 8 fewer threes than they have averaged this season.
The Bruins had more success getting their shot in the first half (the right side of the screen), but the Half-time adjustments were clearly effective, and they continued their game plan and cut the Bruins off at the knees.
New Assistant Coach Ford Stuen was on scout for the game, and the Bills were clearly able to see ways in which they could force the ball to their strengths (French and Co.’s interior defense).
Hasahn French- 5 Stars
What is there to say about what is objectively one of the most impressive Billiken’s performances in SLU history? French was absolutely everywhere all night long and didn’t just rack up the stat sheet but did it in big moments.
Hasahn will not be able to put up these kinds of numbers every night for the rest of the year, but he likely won’t have too. So long as Hasahn continues to be a pressure point like he was tonight, he makes the rest of the team better. The stats won’t be there, but the intangibles will.
Coming off a career night against High Point, Gibson’s 4 points tonight may lead to a lot of questions as to why he’d be graded a 5 star along with Hasahn.
Well, unfortunately, that is one of the pitfalls of a grading system, the ceiling can only be so high. But also, Gibson is quietly becoming one of the most reliable players on this team and is giving Travis Ford a difficult time not playing him.
Gibson didn’t make a three Saturday. Still, he was extremely crafty otherwise and is showing he is far more than just a single threat player. Teams also have to decide who to guard on the floor, and frequently, Belmont chose to focus on Gibson’s range, leaving space for Hasahn French to work. The tandem can make a dangerous pair and will force teams to make decisions they wouldn’t have had to made last season when the spacing simply wasn’t there like it is with Gibson.
Using speed and understanding of space, Gibson’s become a dangerous scorer around the hoop and with the jumper from anywhere on the floor. But what is most impressive is his defensive game. By Travis Ford’s own admission, Gibson has made leaps and bounds in his understanding of the defense and his ability to execute said defense. Gibson played 31 minutes, and when Travis Ford asked his staff down the stretch if he was part of the best lineup they had that night, they all agreed, yes, he was.
The Freshman is far more dynamic than expected, and despite not starting, he is clearly a central cog in what will ultimately make this team succeed.
Jordan Goodwin- 5 Stars
It’s easy to forget just how good Jordan was considering the outstanding Hasahn French performance. Even not being the focal point, Jordan still got a double-double all while holding the Bruins top scorer, Adam Kunkel, to just 9 points on 2-11 shooting.
On most other nights, Jordan would have been the star of the show, it’s a luxury of this team to have multiple guys who can carry the team. Saturday, it just so happened they had two guys do that.
Javonte Perkins – 3 Stars
Javonte has some work to do on the defensive end, but he continues to get better and better on the offensive end. His efficacy isn’t outstanding yet. Still, his shot selection and his ability to score in different ways is a valuable resource for the offense. He can space the floor for the team’s stars and makes opponents focus on his offense. I’d like to see more than just scoring, but if that’s what his role shapes into, and that works for the team. Then he is well-posed to fill that role correctly.
Yuri Collins- 3 Stars
A tough night in some respects for the freshmen, but it is worth noting that even in his tough nights, he still plays 34 minutes.
Yuri’s next big step in his game will be taking all that talent he displays and slowing down the game. Sometimes he gets too far ahead of himself, and that leads to unforced errors or turnovers. Early in the first half, Collins missed a wide-open outlet to Jimerson in transition because he decided to no-look pass to fool a defender…who was nowhere near either of them. The pass sailed 6 feet wide of Jimerson out of bounds. And all of a sudden, an easy bucket was turned into a turnover. One of eight turnovers from Yuri.
Sometimes it’s hard to remember Yuri is a freshman, he gives you every reason to believe he is more experienced than he is. Collins still has spots for growth, and this is one of them. Once he learns to slow the game down and pick his flashy moments a little better, he has the potential to be unstoppable.
Fred Thatch Jr- incomplete
Fred made his return in the Belmont game after missing High Point with an illness. Fred gets a pass on report cards tonight because, after just 9 minutes in the game, Travis Ford said Fred was still getting over his illness, and he “needs to find his rhythm again.”I’ll give him the night and say the illness played a role in his labored play.
“Injuries” were bound to happen; they do for every team. The bills are a tad fortunate; their first is just what appears to be a bad cold.
Fantastic game for the Bills, they proved their potential and won a game they needed to despite being the underdog. The Billikens get an A from me.