SLU men’s basketball take season opener in “total team effort”

Saint Louis University defeated Murray State men’s basketball team. The win came in a 91-68 highly anticipated opening-night matchup at Chaifetz Arena on Nov. 7. 

The Billikens began their 2022-2023 season with a stern test from Murray State, a young team with tremendous offensive potential. Murray State became a commonly known team throughout the NCAA when they produced the number two pick in the 2019 NBA draft, Ja Morant. While SLU’s roster primarily consists of familiar faces and established players in college basketball, many of Murray State’s players have been known to transfer from schools at several levels. Coming into the game, many fans anticipated the matchup between the seasoned SLU team and the promising Murray State roster. “I was pretty nervous on SLU’s part after seeing their scrimmage versus UMSL,” SLU freshman Hardy Oldham said. Oldham, originally from Kentucky, said after the game against Murray State, “I think it was a really good test for SLU.”

Immediately, the Racers jumped to a 9-2 lead in the opening minutes, briefly stunning many enthusiastic SLU fans. However, Fred Thatch Jr. was a crucial sparkplug off the bench. The fifth-year senior instantly came up with a key steal that led to a Gibson Jimerson fastbreak layup, proving to be a crucial momentum switch in the game. Then, after missing a 3-pointer that head Coach Travis Ford took exception to, Thatch Jr. proceeded to drain the next bucket and shot Coach Ford a fierce look. “Fred makes winning plays,” Coach Ford said in a press conference after the game. “[If] our team is going to go where it wants to, we need a healthy Fred.” The Billikens battled back and found themselves leading 44-29 entering halftime after strong spurts of offense. Despite missing 21 3-pointers, the Billikens’ 46 rebounds and solid performances from their key players propelled them to victory in the second half. Yuri Collins, a senior point guard, recorded 14 assists, 8 points, and zero turnovers, an issue of concern from last season. Javonte Perkins, a 6’6” guard, scored a game-high 21 points. Gibson Jimerson also contributed to the win with 20 points on the night. In spite of allowing 39 points in the second half and not being very efficient from beyond the arc, the fact that the Billikens scored nearly 100 points is a good sign for things to come throughout the rest of the season. 

The atmosphere at Chaifetz Arena proved to be a massive advantage for the Billikens throughout the game. Even Dr. Fred Pestello, the university’s first permanent lay president, sat in the front of the SLU student section for much of the first half. “It felt amazing to be a part of,” freshman Jacob Neely said about this. When asked about what it meant to have Dr. Pestello sit in the same row as him, Neely said, “It shows that he truly cares. It personally made me feel like we have leadership that actually cares about the students and wants to be involved.” One of the loudest moments of the night came when Yuri Collins connected with Terrence Hargrove Jr. on an electric alley-oop. 

In the postgame press conference, Coach Ford, Collins and Perkins told the media about the game and what they took away from it. “We didn’t open up with a cupcake,” Coach Ford said regarding their opening-night opponent. “You saw glimpses – just glimpses – of how good we think we can be.” When asked about the dynamic of the team, Collins said, “We got a lot of new guys, just like a lot of other teams. He finished by saying, “We still got a lot of stuff to work on.”

In a Twitter video posted on the Saint Louis University Men’s Basketball account, Coach Ford showed his appreciation for the SLU fans. “I want to thank you [guys] for coming out to our home opener. You guys were a difference maker.” Coach Ford also advertised the Billikens’ second game of the season on Nov. 12 versus the Evansville Purple Aces. With the exciting home opener win versus Murray State, another season of Billikens basketball is officially underway.