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Yuri Collins gets record 20 assists for SLU. He thinks he could have had 25.

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Billikens 80, Tigers 63

St. Louis University Billiken guard Yuri Collins passes past Tennessee State Tiger center Adong Makuoi on Wednesday, Nov. 30, 2022, in the second half of a game at Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, Mo. Photo by Christian Gooden, cgooden@post-dispatch.com

Nothing was out of the ordinary as far as Yuri Collins was concerned while his assists were accumulating with passes for open shooters, fast breaks and one backdoor cut after another.

The St. Louis University point guard reached 15, but he had done that before. He hit 16 and then 17, and that still didn’t register.

But finally he knew where he stood Wednesday night as SLU was completing an 80-63 win over Tennessee State at Chaifetz Arena. And Collins went for it.

“When I got to 18, I started hunting for them,” he said. “At 17, we were still playing ball. There were a few minutes left and another media timeout. I figured it was going to come.”

Collins tied his own school record of 19 on an inbound pass to Fred Thatch Jr. And he hit 20 to establish a new mark when he found Sincere Parker slicing to the basket for a layup with plenty of time to spare.

He played 36 minutes and had only one turnover, and there was no telling how many he could have had if all the layups he helped create had been converted.

“Like 25, 26,” Collins said.

The 20 assists were the most by a Division I player this season and boosted his average to 11.6 per game.

He did much of his work by connecting with teammates on cuts that produced an abundance of layups along with a few misses.

“He made probably five to eight passes that were incredible,” coach Travis Ford said. “I don’t know if any player in the country can make them. He’s had a lot of games he’s made one or two crazy passes that led to incredible buckets, but he was putting points on a platter for these guys.”

Collins had his big night in a game where SLU wasn’t at its sharpest offensively throughout. In fact, the first 15 minutes were a bit of a struggle as Tennessee State’s changing offenses caused some issues for the Billikens.

He had several assists in the final minutes of the first half as SLU opened a 10-point lead and reached nine at the break.

His assists were aided in the second half when Javonte Perkins warmed up from behind the 3-point arc. But he mostly created the plays by breaking down the defense.

Asked about the luxury of playing with Collins, Perkins scoffed, “It’s all right. Nothing major.”

Then he continue: “It’s good for people like me. He finds the scorers and everyone on the court. It’s a two-way street, you know. He passes the ball and we’re scoring, so everyone’s going to look good.”

The game was Collins’ fourth this season with 10 or more assists after he had eight in double digits last season.

On a night that Gibson Jimerson couldn’t get open for 3-pointers, he moved and cut and scored on five layups, four of them assisted by Collins. The 6-foot senior also continued to fine tune his connection with Javon Pickett, who benefited from numerous feeds, including one of Collins’ patented transition bounce passes.

“Gibson has figured out how to cut and move, and now Javon is figuring it out,” Ford said. “He wants to get part of this, too. He’s cutting and sprinting. Everyone wants to be a part of it. You have to love playing with him.”

Ford still wasn’t happy with SLU’s conversion rate around the basket. The Billikens missed 18 shots within a couple of feet of the rim. However, Francis Okoro did go up with more authority than usual on a couple of plays to finish with dunks.

Picket and Perkins scored 15 points to lead the Billikens, and Jimerson added 11. SLU had 26 assists as a team on 32 baskets.

Afterward, Ford was looking forward to reviewing the game. It’s something he would do regardless but the chore was going to be different this time.

“I’m interested to see how many were ‘wow’ assists,” Ford said. “Quite a few, I think.”

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