Men’s basketball remains hopeful


(Emma Duman / The University News)

Billikens men’s basketball entered February in the hunt for the best record in the Atlantic 10 (A-10), half a game behind the VCU Rams in the standings. Halfway through the month, the Bills have slipped down to third in the standings, going 2-2 so far this month. They lost the battle for the number one seed against VCU 65-73 at home. They bounced back with a 76-71 home win against Rhode Island before losing 56-70 to Dayton on the road. Their most recent game was a 78-65 home win against Davidson. The Bills have five games remaining in their season prior to the conference tournament. Based on last year, the Bills would need to either have the best record in the A-10 or win the tournament if they want to earn a spot in the NCAA tournament.

   During this stretch, the Billikens have averaged 68.75 points per game, with 20.75 coming from sophomore sharpshooter Gibson Jimerson, who has scored exactly 24 points in each of SLU’s home games this month. Jimerson leads the Billikens in scoring for the second year in a row, and on high efficiency to boot. This month he’s shooting 50.9% from the field including 50% from the 3-point range. Billiken Head Coach Travis Ford has showcased his trust in Jimerson’s skill, playing him 37.25 minutes per game out of a possible 40. The shooting guard is also swiping 1.5 steals and pulling down 3 rebounds per game. Despite still being a sophomore, Jimerson is on the cusp of being in SLU’s top 20 career points leaders.

   Jimerson leads the Billikens in scoring, however, the offense runs through junior point guard Yuri Collins. For a second year in a row, Collins is leading the nation in assists, dishing out 10 per game. Collins set a career high earlier this season, joining only 19 other players in the NCAA since 1983 to reach 20 assists in a game. Over the last four games, Collins has averaged 10 points, 9 assists and 1.75 steals per game all while being the team’s primary perimeter defender.  Against Davidson, Collins held the Wildcats’ leading scorer, Foster Loyer to 8 points on 1-8 shooting from the field and 0-6 from beyond the arc. Going into the game Loyer was averaging 15.9 points per game. Collins is on pace to finish the season in SLU’s top 5 for career steals and is a candidate for the Bob Cousy Award, which honors the nation’s top point guard, as well as the Oscar Robertson Trophy, which honors the overall most outstanding college basketball player.

   The Billikens’ interior defense is anchored by senior big man Francis Okoro. Okoro is second in the conference in rebounding and third in blocks. To critics, it would appear that Okoro has been struggling during this stretch. His rebounding and shot blocking have been below his averages from earlier in the season, but Okoro is shooting an impressive .529 from the field these past four games on 4.25 attempts per game for 4.75 points each night. Coach Ford has a lot of praise for Okoro’s work ethic and has said that he would like to increase Okoro’s offensive role as well as that of fellow senior big man, Jake Forrester. It would be unfair to criticize Okoro for slightly decreased rebounding and shot blocking while also expecting him to become a more reliable offensive option.

   Other notable members of Ford’s rotation include big man Jake Forrester, sophomore guard Sincere Parker, and senior wings Jevon Pickett and Jevonte Perkins. Junior forward Terrence Hargrove Jr. Forrester leads the Bills in field goal percentage at over 58%, and Ford has stated that he hopes to involve him in the offense more to take advantage of that efficiency. Forrester is currently averaging 3.75 field goal attempts per game over the last four games, a slow but definite increase from the previous four-game stretch. Prior to this stretch, Forrester hadn’t attempted more than 5 shots since the St. Bonaventure game on Jan. 7. He’s averaging 5 points, 3 rebounds and a block per game this month. Sincere Parker is providing 7.25 points per game and has made all 10 of his free throw attempts over the last four games. Parker is also playing solid defense, averaging a steal and a block per game with season highs for both against Rhode Island with 3 blocks and 2 steals in a 10 point outing. Wing duo Jevon Pickett and Jevonte Perkins have combined for 14 points per game on a shared efficiency of .359.

Questionable shot selection has impeded their offensive output, as they attempt over 13 shots per game, but their ability to take over games in the clutch cannot be understated. Perkins has been elite with his 3 point shooting, firing at a 43.75% clip this month while Pickett exploded in a tightly contested Davidson game for an incredibly efficient 16 points. Terrence “Hargrove Airlines” Hargrove is a high flying, rim-rattling, crowd pleaser. He entered the starting lineup in early January and has lived up to the pressure, averaging 7.77 points per game since entering the starting lineup. Hargrove delivered a season high 12 points on 5 of 8 shooting against Rhode Island. This February, Hargrove has averaged 7 points and 4 boards while exciting the crowd each game with his phenomenal dunking.

   With the season end drawing closer Ford still has time to make adjustments, as shown by increased minutes for freshmen guard Larry Hughes Jr, and big man, Mouhamadou Cisse. The Billikens missed out on the NCAA tournament last season after finishing 5th in the standings. Coach Ford is looking for improvement this year and has faith that his team has the capability to achieve that.