Three free throws by Hasahn French generated some of the loudest applause Saturday afternoon as the St. Louis University junior pushed the Billikens into a lead they wouldn’t lose.
But it was everything that led to those shots — the ones that are the toughest for French — that made a 60-55 win over Belmont at Chaifetz Arena possible.
French was part fullback, part point guard and completely dominating in posting 21 points, 24 rebounds and seven blocked shots in a performance that is sure to give the Bruins nightmares.
“I’ve been looking for that for three years — that mentality,” SLU coach Travis Ford said. “Hasahn is such a nice young man. That niceness sometimes carries over to the court a little too much. These are numbers he’s capable of. This is extreme, but he has the ability if he brings that type of emotion.”
French turned his body into a battering ram as he attacked the basket relentlessly in the second half. He was joined in that effort by Jordan Goodwin, who had 13 points and 13 rebounds for SLU (5-1).
French touched the ball on nearly every second-half possession and left little imagination about his intentions as he beat a path to the rim. He made eight of 19 shots, drew eight fouls and had nine offensive rebounds, mostly on his own missed shots.
“With 13 minutes left I told him, ‘You have to bring us home,’” Goodwin said. “I said, ‘I’m all in for doing whatever I have to to help you put us on your shoulders.’ I wasn’t surprised by the 24 rebounds or anything like that. I’ve been playing with him three years.”
Aside from a career high in rebounds, the seven blocked shots also were a single-game best for French. The 24 boards tied for third most in SLU history and are the most by a Billiken since 1966. Additionally, he guarded Belmont’s Nick Muszynski, who was averaging 15.6 points, and held him to one field goal in nine attempts and three points.
Despite the gaudy statistics from French, Belmont (4-2) led 55-51 with four and a half minutes remaining. A bit earlier in the second half, French had confounded the Belmont defense by pulling off a double spin move to the basket for a layup and dropping a nice pass to Javonte Perkins for an assist on a layup.
But down the stretch, French was in full power mode. His driving layup tied the game 55-55 with three minutes left.
At the other end he recorded a block and a steal before going to the offensive end to draw a foul. A 29.7 percent free throw shooter at that moment, he made both. After a missed Belmont shot he was fouled again and made one of two.
“I’m not impressed with the free throws,” he said. “I shoot them every day and expect them to go in. I’m impressed with my teammates.”
But he was also impressed with his double spin move that belied his size of 6 feet 6, 245 pounds.
“That was nice,” he said.
The game epitomized the type of effort Ford had been seeking from the Billikens.
They held the Bruins to 30.6 percent shooting and limited leading scorers Adam Kunkel and Muszynski to 12 points, which is 25 below their combined averages. They also outrebounded Belmont 60-38.
Ford challenged some players specifically with hand-written notes he distributed Saturday morning, French and Goodwin among them.
“Those are two guys I’ve put a lot of pressure on to lead us,” he said. “I’ve said many times our team is going to go as they go. That’s pressure. But if they play that hard, good things will happen for them. Those guys led us (today) emotionally, physically and mentally. They led us in every category and refused to be denied.”
Perkins had 10 points, but French and Goodwin didn’t need much other offensive support thanks to SLU’s best defensive effort of the season.
The Billikens were able to carry that from start to finish. The Bruins had a chance to tie in the final 30 seconds but missed the front end of a one-and one before Muszynski was swarmed as he drove with the ball being knocked out of bounds by the Billikens with 10 seconds left.
Belmont’s last-ditch effort was a wild 3-point attempt by Tyler Scanlon with multiple bodies around him. The Bruins finished 31 points below their season scoring average.
“We did it against a powerful offensive team,” Ford said. “Every one of them was on the team last year. I’ve pumped up teams before but I told our team (Belmont) will win 28, 30 games. That’s a really good team.”