When any event occurs within the aftermath of an unexpected shift in existence, the outcome or process can never be predicted with any degree of certainty. The aftermath in which the Billikens were opening Atlantic 10 conference play was the unexpected departure of highly heralded freshman forward Carte’Are Gordon earlier in the week. The reason for his leaving was cloaked in cliché and “things that should be said.” There would be no closure for anyone outside of the players in uniform. No true insight.
When you “move on to the next” as such is the creed of all teams in a similar circumstance, the questions that abound are many and varied. But, the most important one is, “how do you perform going forward?” Questions about yesterday can be saved for late April. The only questions that mattered inside of Chaifetz Arena on a beautiful Sunday in St. Louis were those questions that concerned the future.
How were the Billikens going to come out of the blocks was the first question I wanted an answer to. Hasahn French supplied an early answer. A block on the first defensive possession and a two hand throw down on the other end. Follow that with a Javon Bess triple from the corner and it was a quick 5-0 Billikens lead. SLU would go on to score 11 in the first 5 minutes, and if you’ve followed this club this season this is considered an offensive onslaught. Then a timeout and the first flood was through. What was next?
After the first wave
Once the emotions fall aside and the flow of basketball sets in, what would this team actually look like? Fred Thatch and KC Hankton checked in at the 14 minute mark. There were a flurry of subs, and 8 minutes later the Billikens had scored 4 more points. The remainder of the half dragged out…and dragged out. It was Billiken basketball. Get ahead, keep it close, up the defensive intensity as the minutes tick by, and pray to whoever you pray to that you’ll make enough shots to close things out.
SLU managed just 14 points in the final 15 minutes of the half. 25-25 as they jogged to the locker room. That’s a Big 12 Football halftime score, it should not be a D1 basketball score.
The Second Frame
After such a dismal first half, how would the squad come out? Well…much like they did to start the game. 8 points in 2 minutes after a dunk from Foreman followed by back to back threes from Isabell and Goodwin. Then, it happened again. A slog of what I suppose we have to call offense. To lament this play is folly, this is what we have seen nearly every single game against any opponent of merit.
The same story different chapter. Too many turnovers, lots of missed free throws, and even more missed layups and jumpers.
The final 9 minutes was a different tune. The Billikens unleashed the press, sped the Rams up and regained the lead. Things stayed tight as they always do in the Jewel of Midtown. Tyrese Martin carried the Rams in the second half with 13 points and 18 for the game. But, his flow got stifled by some questionable calls and a tech on Rams coach David Cox for screaming at the officials as no grown man should in amateur athletics.
Then it was that man, Javon Bess to the rescue. The defense was the standard Bess blanket of intensity. It was his offensive game continuing to grow that sealed this one. He hit the 20 point plateau for the 3rd time this season, hitting more triples in this one game than in his freshman and sophomore years combined. His final line was tying his career high with 24 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals in 39 minutes of play to close out a 60-53 Billikens win to start 1-0 in the A10.
There was zero discernable difference in this one game for the Billikens with or without Gordon. Hasahn French showed up with 10 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 blocks to fill the middle in 37 minutes of clock. Hankton, Foreman, and Isabell had flashes and it was just enough, once again…just enough to win.
In the end, as long and Goodwin and Bess are on the floor, this team will be in every single game from here till April. Every game will be a grind, every free throw will be a gift from the hoops gods, and every turnover will come with a complimentary cringe.
As I’ve written before, a win is a win as win, no matter how ugly. So, until Wednesday…
Long live the grind.