Four days after digging a quick 10-point hole at Boston College, St. Louis University allowed Southern Illinois University Carbondale to score the first 10 points of their game Sunday.
It was the latest in a string of slow starts that began against Seton Hall and hasn’t dissipated while the Billikens have built the best start in coach Travis Ford’s tenure.
They bounced back at Chaifetz Arena for a 69-60 victory, but again had wildly inconsistent halves that Ford knows won’t be a formula for success as the schedule gets tougher and Atlantic 10 Conference play looms.
“In no games yet — scrimmages, exhibitions, and now eight games — have we put two halves together where we’ve played really good offense and really good defense,” he said. “We’ve got to get off to better starts. We have to be consistent both halves. We play at very high levels and then low levels. You have to have those highs and sustain it with good solid play. We were lucky in the second half we did do that.”
The game looked a lot like SLU’s win at Boston College. This time the Billikens (7-1) used a 14-4 run to get separation on the Salukis (3-5) in the second half and then slowly pulled away behind Jordan Goodwin’s 14 points and 19 rebounds.
After shooting 31 percent in the first half, SLU shot 58 percent in the second. SLU had one more rebound than SIUC at halftime but outboarded the visitors by 11 in the final 20 minutes. The Salukis shot 52 percent in the first half and were held to 38.5 percent in the second.
It turned out well for SLU but not before the Billikens scraped and clawed their way out of the early hole.
“I think the biggest thing is staying together,” Goodwin said. “If we stay together, no matter what type of start, we’ll find our way out. But it is something we need to stop doing and have better control doing it.”
The Billikens had Javonte Perkins to thank for staying close, as he scored 14 of his team-high 18 points in the first half and even made five consecutive free throws.
The junior college transfer entered the game after less than 3½ minutes and never left the floor again. The 6-foot-6 forward provided offense when no one else could and kept things operating smoothly in the second half.
“I feel since I was coming off the bench and there wasn’t a lot of scoring going on, I had to bring something since I’m considered a scorer,” Perkins said.
Goodwin continued his uptick in scoring and rebounding and actually caught French for the team season rebounding lead. French had 15 points and nine rebounds, and both players emerged from the game averaging 10.4.
It was just two weeks ago that the 6-foot-7 French tied the Atlantic 10 record with 24 rebounds at Chaifetz. Goodwin, who is 6-3, doesn’t let his size slow him and admitted a head-to-head competition with his teammate.
“Most definitely. You kind of saw it on my first rebound when I got it and stepped out of bounds,” Goodwin said. “Coach says you can be selfish with rebounding. So I took that in and I had the right to go get it, no matter what.”
Goodwin said the gaudy rebound chain that is awarded to SLU’s leader after each game is stored in the room he shares with French. Presumably because no one else is going to win it.
SIUC first-year coach Bryan Mullins had his team playing tough defense and leading 36-35 with under 13 minutes remaining. The Billikens responded with a mini run capped by Goodwin grabbing a defensive rebound, taking the ball the length of the floor and finding Gibson Jimerson in the corner for a 3-pointer.
Despite the Salukis’ solid shooting throughout, SLU’s strategy of taking away 3-pointers was a success. SIUC made one of 11 behind the arc and not even 14 layups could keep it in the game.
“Going into the game we concentrated on not giving up 3s,” Ford said. “We thought that was the only way they had a chance. Give them credit. We took away the 3 but they threw it over our head and were taking the twos. We adjusted at halftime and played the way we’re capable.”