The Saint Louis University Billikens hosted the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars Wednesday night at Chaifetz Arena for their season and home opener. The game was the first for #TeamBlue in 263 days since they defeated St. Bonaventure 72-49 in the final game of conference play in March before leaving for the conference tournament in Brooklyn.
Of course that tournament was canceled before it started, but flash forward 8 months and it appears the Billikens didn’t skip a beat. SLU has been receiving an unprecedented amount of national attention from analysts, fans, and other teams alike due to the return of nearly the entire roster and with the addition of transfer center Martin Linssen and freshmen Andre Lorentsson and Markhi Strickland – and they certainly did not miss expectations. #TeamBlue beat SIUE last night by a whopping 37 points, 89-52, answering lots of questions and leaving little to the imagination.
Senior star forward Hasahn French was the only Billiken to not see the floor in last night’s matchup, due to concussion protocol, which means that 14 different Billikens received playing time. Depth has been one of the biggest selling points for this year’s Billikens and that depth was proven last night – five players scored in double digits and Demarius Jacobs was only one point shy of being the sixth. The kicker? None of those players received more than 23 minutes of playing time.
Though last year’s team won 23 games and was on the verge of an NCAA tournament bid there were a variety of shortcomings that fans – myself included – were worried would follow us into the new season. Some examples are foul trouble, turnovers, and of course FREE THROW SHOOTING. I’m thrilled to say that last night we didn’t have a single player with more than 3 fouls, we had a 17:14 assist-to-turnover ratio, we had a greater than 45% total field goal percentage, and shot 76.7% from the free throw line – a greater FT% than any of our 31 games last season.
A few highlights from last night’s game:
- Javonte Perkins scored 22 points in just 20 minutes, including 15 in the first 6.5 minutes of the game, on 72% shooting and 100% from the free throw line. He also recorded 4 rebounds and 2 assists. After averaging over 18PPG in conference play last season all eyes were on Javonte to be the team’s go-to scorer and he certainly did not disappoint.
- Jordan Goodwin recorded a 12 point 11 rebound double-double, in only 23 minutes of playing time. He and Hasahn were the only teammates in all of Division 1 to both average double-doubles last season so we can only hope to see them fill those shoes again this year.
- Yuri Collins had a 6 to 1 assist to turnover ratio, easing the worries of many fans who expressed that as his biggest flaw but contributed it to inexperience. Yuri also only had 21 minutes of playing time – does that mean we can expect him to average double-digit assists this year?
- Martin Linssen, transfer center from UNCW, found himself in the starting lineup due to Hasahn’s concussion. I wondered upon hearing the starting lineup announcement if Jimmy Bell’s foot injury is still lingering enough to give Martin the nod over him, but Linssen’s performance left no doubt that he deserved it. Those two will certainly be fighting for playing time in the front court – Linssen had 11 points, 2 rebounds, 1 steal and was 7 for 8 from the free throw line in just 19 minutes on the floor.
Looking forward to LSU this Saturday at Chaifetz, tipping off at 2pm, we expected a much more difficult contest as it was anticipated to be one of if not the most difficult of all our non-conference matchups – but after LSU’s matchup with SIUE today I’m finding myself far more confident than I already was. SIUE lost by only 13 to LSU and managed to score 81 points against them, trailing by as few as 2 points in the last 9 minutes of the game.
One game does not tell the full story and we cannot expect any game to be easy – LSU will undoubtedly be a challenging opponent, but we have good reason to be excited heading into the second game of the season. My keys to the game are as follows:
- Defend Cameron Thomas and Darius Days – the freshman guard and junior forward scored 27 and 24 points respectively against SIUE. SLU’s depth at both positions will provide plenty of options to limit their offensive output.
- Force more turnovers and limit our own. LSU only committed 9 turnovers while forcing 15 of their own, 10 of which were steals. Efficient offense and careful ballhandling complemented by the patented Billiken Defense will be essential to the control of the game.
- Control the tempo. Regardless of the opponent, winning any game in which you need 95 points to do so is a difficult task. Though we have the offensive ability to score that high, it’s much easier to win when we don’t have to.
- Free Throws. LSU made 22 of 26 free throws on Thursday while only sending SIUE to the line 15 times. The difference in free throws would have made this just a 1-point game, and at 84.6% shooting we have found that LSU is very comfortable at the line. The Billikens need to be efficient at the line (76% on Wednesday) and refrain from giving LSU many opportunities for free points.
Saturday’s game will be live on ESPN+ at 2PM. Though we can’t be in-person to cheer them on, we can be in-person at Fieldhouse Pub and Grill where they will be streaming the game on their televisions. I visited Fieldhouse for Wednesday’s game and had a great experience – fun atmosphere, proper safety precautions, great food and drinks, and even a little Fox 2 air-time!
Whether you watch with me at Fieldhouse, from the comfort of your home, or follow the live commentary on Twitter*, make sure you don’t miss the Billikens stretch their winning streak to 7 games! #BillsBy40