By Carter Chapley
St. Louis, MO
Never in Travis Ford’s tenure as the Head Coach of the SLU Billikens has his squad scored as many as 89 points. But that’s what Team Blue did in their season opener downing Florida Gulf Coast to the tune of 89-67.
Unlike their exhibition against Kentucky Wesleyan, the Billikens dominance was never in doubt. Stringing out a 19-0 run in the early part of the first half on the backs of the Billiken Big 3(Jordan Goodwin, Hasahn French, and Fred Thatch), and the shooting of freshmen Gibson Jimerson.
The game never swung the other way, and the Billiken result was never in doubt.
Travis Ford made it clear in his post-game comments that he felt in no way was this the “perfect outing,” but in terms of results, the game went just about as well as anyone could have hoped for.
In the statistically strongest offensive game Ford has had in Saint Louis, the Billikens did just about everything right. They passed the ball well, played with pace, shot the three at a 40% clip. Their floor generals displayed a better understanding of knowing when to speed up and slow down. Most importantly, the Billikens allowed their staunch defensive to lead to easy baskets, combining for 27 of their 89 points coming off turnovers or the fast break.
The critical point of contention Head Coach Travis Ford had for his team after the 22-point win was he felt they didn’t guard the perimeter well enough in the second half. A fair criticism considering not only has the perimeter defense been a point of focus in the exhibition matches, but that the Billikens allowed 10 makes on 17 attempts. Compared to just 2 makes on 10 attempts in the first half.
Score Effects is a statistic measured in professional hockey that, when boiled down, measures and explains the phenomenon of how a team with a lead will allow more offensive chances against them. A team with a lead, especially a big lead, will sit back and let the action come to them, they will be less sharp. The Billikens second half was a prime example of this.
It’s hard to accurately interpret just how strong or weak the actual defense of the Billikens is, a full 40 minutes of intense basketball simply hasn’t been played yet. Still, all signs are pointing to the Billikens owning a robust and disruptive D.
It’s Travis Ford’s job to find the problems with the team, no matter the context, and correct them. Despite the success on both ends of the floor, the poor showing on the perimeter defense in the second half gives the Billikens something tangible to work towards.
I am still fiddling with the best method of displaying this information, but I feel it is essential to show. The shot charts tell the story for the game, especially in the ability of the Billikens to impose their will defensively in the first half.
It’s clear Travis Ford game-planned to run the FGCU Eagles off the three-point line, knowing just how good they could be. The Billikens forced the Eagles inside to where they were clearly disadvantaged. In the second half, when they were able to find space and get shots up, they were clearly more effective.
The big man had a relatively quiet first half, going for just 4 points and a rebound in 16 minutes. Despite this, Hasahn never stopped looking like the most dominant player in the building. French’s presence on defense is menacing, and his ability to switch and guard virtually any offensive threat is what makes him a preseason all-defense player. So when Hasahn breaks out in the second half for 16 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 blocks, it feels both like he finally got his, while also not being surprised at all.
Also, with his 3 blocks tonight, Hasahn needs just 8 more blocks to set the all-time Billikens record for Blocks. Despite being only a junior, Hasahn is already entering the conversation of all-time greatest Billikens.
Fred Thatch Jr
I tweeted during the game that “Fred Thatch Jr was instant energy off the bench last year. What he has done well tonight is made that energy sustain. Always in the right spot, competing for every ball. This is excellent news for the Billikens.”
Fred has a knack for always being in the right place at the right time. He uses his athleticism to put himself in positions to succeed, getting rebounds and second-chance opportunities. Fred makes winning plays. He did go 0-3 from a distance, but the second his shot starts falling regularly, and I think it will, he will be a terrifying player for opposing defenses.
Jordan Goodwin nearly got his first double-double of the season, going for 18 points, 9 rebounds, and 3 steals. The offense is what jumps out on stat sheets. So it only makes it more impressive that Jordan’s most significant contribution to this game was his defensive pressure as the lead man on the Billikens press.
Jordan’s high-pressure force more tips, deflections, turnovers, and uncredited steals than I can count. FGCU eventually built their press break around finding ways to not deal with Jordan.
Travis Ford said all summer that this team’s success will come from the leadership and presence of its Big 3. So, on a night in which the Billikens dominated, there is no surprise the Big 3 are all 5 Star players on this night.
This one is as simple as it gets; the Billikens outrebounded FGCU to the tune of 41-28. But what is even more impressive is the Bills had more offensive rebounds than the Eagles had defensive rebounds.
When you take over 230 three-pointers in a season, as Tay did last year, it’s easy to see that as the players calling card, or identity.
But it has become clear tonight that Tay’s best attribute isn’t his jumper…it’s his defense. The Grad transfer uses his top-end speed to stick with any man he’s assigned to and sticks to them like their shadow. Added his active hands, he becomes one peskier defender the Billikens have.
Post-game, Travis Ford praised Tay’s effort, “Tay Weavers a tough little sucker…we talk about it every day. I don’t hesitate to put him in whatsoever, he’s going to have some big nights. As he continues to learn the system, he’s going to get more and more minutes. He’s tough, not afraid to get his nose dirty, he’s quick, and he really bought into our toughness mentality”.
Tay stood out despite getting just 14 minutes, but it’s becoming clearer that if Travis feels he needs to turn to a defensive lineup, or up the intensity or toughness of his rotation, Tay may be the first guy to get the call.
Yuri continues to dazzle as a leader for the Billikens. Going for a game-high 9 assists in just 22 minutes, Yuri provided the kickstart for the Billikens that lead to the 19-0 run. His impact on the game is immediate, both as a pressure point on defense and a distributor on offense.
What the freshmen brings to the table most is a sense of calm. The Billikens lack a ‘true point guard’ in their starting lineup and in the early part of the game, had trouble getting rolling once they were in half-court sets. Collins seems to be comfortable being the focal point of the offense, which allows the other starters to get moving and do what they do best.
What a turnaround for the freshmen shooter. The Virginia native came out shooting, showing no signs of hesitation after the poor showing in the exhibition. Gibson went 3-5 from behind the arc, adding a free throw to make it 10 points in 21 minutes.
Shooters shoot, and this young man proved he has a short memory. A valuable trait for a guy expected to play the role he is going to play. There is still room to grow on the defensive end of the ball, but overall a huge night for Jimerson.
It’s really frustrating giving Javonte three stars because all night long, it seemed he was just one play away from really breaking away. The junior had 8 points and 5 rebounds in 19 minutes while playing responsible defense all night, adding a steal and multiple tips to his credit.
The JUCO transfer was said to have a hard time adjusting to the speed of Division 1 basketball early in the summer. But he seems to have figured it out in the small sample size we have. Perkins plays a quiet game, allowing everything to come to him, never forcing anything. He had no signature moment or play, but he effectively contributed to the press defense and hit the shots that came to him. He also adds another active rebounder to a squad that can already dominate the glass on lesser teams.
I’m not trying to be insulating by saying, “I know what his floor is now.” I would really like to see Javonte be more aggressive on offense because it is clear he has a touch from all parts of the floor. So, while I don’t know what his ceiling looks like yet, it seems his floor at the very least a very responsible bench wing.
The North Carolina native had a tough night. Getting just 1 point on 0-3 shooting in 10 minutes of play is a slow night for one of the guys the Billikens hoped was going to take the next step forward in his game.
KC really never had the opportunity to get his footing in the game, and it showed just how uncomfortable he was while he was out there. With the amount of depth, the Billikens have guys that are going to have to take full advantage of their limited minutes to prove they deserve more. That didn’t happen for KC tonight. He will get more opportunities moving forward but will need to show more.
No one really.
This is the real key of the evening. No one played really, obviously, poorly. The Billikens depth is what is going to make them most dangerous, so there is some patience if a specific player lays an egg. But on a night in which they set a Travis Ford era record for scoring,
The final grade has to be an A. Could have been an A+, but the second half defense left something to be desired. The team will look to continue their winning ways into Saturday’s matchup against Valparaiso.