The University of Massachusetts has a big team, like a couple of SEC offensive linemen big. Length, height, and a lot of width. St. Louis University just lost a 6’8” kid with an NBA ready body last week. His departure didn’t matter during Sunday’s A-10 opener against Rhode Island, but it would matter tonight. A few fouls, a few touch calls, and depth could be tested quicker that spring comes and goes in the midst of winter in St. Louis.
The outlier, the UMass point guard Luwane Pipkins coming in averaging 19 points a game and standing a full 5’10” tall. Could the Bills defense wrap him up as they have nearly every guard so far this season? Could the SLU offense muster anything other than 60 points?
The early returns on offense were not pretty. UMass jumped out to a quick 6-0 lead that lead to a Travis Ford timeout as SLU hadn’t scored after 3 minutes of play. The collective feeling in Chaifetz was “well, here we go… one more time into the muck and the grind…” 10 points after seven and half minutes and a tie game.
Then, something unheard of happened. 4 straight made free throws from D.J. Foreman and Hasahn French. This spurred something in French. He put together what may be the best offensive half of his young career at SLU. He finished the first frame with 12 points and 4 boards while going an astonishing 4-4 from the line. The Billikens went to the break with a 32-25 lead on only 33% shooting, but 4 steals and 11 offensive rebounds.
As for the defense of SLU…that Pipkins guy I mentioned dropping 19 per…he finished the 1st half with 3 points on 1-5 shooting and two turnovers.
That second half though…
It was a continuation of the Hasahn French show. The Kid from NY put on an absolute show. The throws kept falling, the runners, the spinning hooks, and the signature two hand throw down were all on full 4k display. UMass had no answer…none of their size could contain his quick feet and handles.
So what kept it close? The same thing that always does. 11 missed free throws, 2-17 from three, and 22 personal fouls. And those fouls we talked about earlier became an issue. D.J. Foreman fouled out with 5:31 left and Hasahn French had to play those last 5:30 with 4 fouls and the only big body left in Billiken white and blue. He held his own and stayed in, but things got tight.
Every possession was a foul. For the 40 minute game there were 47 fouls called. It looked like missed free throws were going to cost the Billikens the game but 4 straight from Isabell and Goodwin in the final 10 seconds sealed a 65-62 victory to push their record to 11-4 and 2-0 in the Atlantic 10.
The sneaky stat line of the night was Tramaine Isabelle scoring 17 points, adding 7 boards, 7 dimes, and a steal to compliment the career night from Hasahn French. The big fella closed out the evening with 25 points, 6 rebounds, 3 blocks, and 3 steals. The Billikens needed everything French and Isabell brought considering Bess and Goodwin combined for 15 points on 5-20 shooting.
And once again…a win is a win is a win. They will not get prettier, but they will not get uglier than this. Up next is a trip away from the Gateway to take on LaSalle this Saturday. Can they maintain the defense? Can they make just enough buckets and throws to win? Can the big guys play just enough minutes to not have to bring in the walk-ons? Can Travis Ford game plan just good enough to navigate 4 guard lineups for chunks of clock? Can the Billikens do just that? Just enough. We will find out Saturday…
Until then… Long live Hasahn French going 70% from the stripe.