CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. — Before last weekend’s game against Belmont, coach Travis Ford showed his St. Louis University players a three-minute video of Marcus Smart hustle plays.
On Wednesday, the Boston Celtic made his presence felt again in the locker room. In the flesh at Conte Forum. That was after he visited the team’s practice Monday.
If Smart’s words and mentality are rubbing off on the Billikens, Ford couldn’t be happier because they needed it to overcome some rough offense to post a 64-54 win over Boston College.
“It’s really hard to describe how much it means for a guy to come to practice the day of his game to talk to our team and spend that time,” Ford said.
SLU (6-1) overcame an early 10-point deficit thanks to a 21-0 run in the second half in its first road game of the season, in front of a crowd that numbered less than 2,000.
Jordan Goodwin had 20 points and 14 rebounds and the Billikens pulled away in front of Smart, who played for Ford at Oklahoma State player and who had his own game to play Wednesday night.
“We’ve been searching for that deep mental toughness, and we got down early and dug ourselves a hole,” Ford said. “We were not playing well and didn’t let it bother us. We were making a lot of adjustments to figure out how to score, to figure out the rotation, to figure out who’s going to play. I’m really proud of the effort and mental toughness to weather the storm.”
SLU had been in Boston for four days, but the game was the first time the players were on the Conte Forum floor. They practiced at two other locations and didn’t have a shoot-around in the morning.
The Billikens wore the black uniforms they last wore at their NCAA Tournament game in April. For a while it seemed they were headed for a similar whooping.
The Billikens had to survive early without Hasahn French because of foul trouble. SLU shot 27 percent and had 11 turnovers at the intermission. But it trailed by only two after falling behind by 10.
Goodwin emerged from halftime with renewed energy. He scored on an offensive rebound and a layup to start and then scored nine consecutive points in the decisive run.
“In the first half I missed easy shots I usually make,” he said. “So I gathered myself and went off two feet and finished. With Hasahn out there, he draws so much attention, I felt like everybody forgot about me and I snuck in there and did what I did.”
SLU also dominated on the boards in the second half with a boost from Javonte Perkins. French finished with 11 rebounds in just 24 minutes and Perkins started the second half and contributed nine.
The Billikens had 17 offensive rebounds and scored 16 second-chance points.
“We were getting out-rebounded in the first half, so I decided I had to do more,” Perkins said. “I had to step it up a little in that department. I’ve got size and can kind of jump high, so I can grab a lot of boards.”
SLU’s defense made things tough on the Eagles (4-3) in stretches. They went 8½ minutes without a field goal in the first half, allowing SLU to inch back into the game.
The Billikens held Boston College without a field goal for eight minutes during their big run in the second half.
“We managed our offense a whole lot better in the second half,” Ford said. “We didn’t play offense a whole lot better, just managed it better. In the first half we were so bad offensively it was killing our defense.”
Gibson Jimerson, who scored 11 points, finished the run with two free throws after a technical foul on the Eagles’ bench and a 3-pointer, his third of the game.
But some problems at the free throw line — SLU missed six of its last nine attempts — allowed Boston College to make a run. The Eagles got within six with 57 seconds remaining.
In the end, SLU did what was necessary, even if it wasn’t pretty.
“That’s what it’s going to take, especially when we’re playing offense the way we are,” Ford said. “The first four games we were averaging 84 points and couldn’t guard a soul. Now it’s flipped. But I’d rather be playing some defense and we’ll figure out the rest.”
Stu Durando @studurando on Twitter email@example.com