St. Louis – For the third time in four games, the Saint Louis University Billikens started slowly, but rallied to defeat an undermanned Oral Roberts squad 72-55 at Chaifetz Arena.
The inauspicious beginning could be contributed a multitude of factors, but on Thursday it was namely the lack of rebounding.
"By the time the second half, we wake up and play defense and that's when we really see what this team can do," senior Dwayne Evans said.
I tried to dig deeper. Why? Are these slow starts more than just a small sample size – perhaps a trend?
"I don't really have a good answer," Evans said.
"I'm not sure. Everybody's mentally ready. We make sure of that," guard Jordair Jett said.
After battling with rushed and untimely shots from junior Grandy Glaze during the opening stanza of the game, the Billikens' defense forced turnovers that ultimately kept them in the ballgame.
Head coach Jim Crews understands this isn't the same team he expects to see as the season wears on, but there was still a pause for concern.
"It's a process," he said. "There aren't many sports out there that [span over] two semesters. It's tough. There's a laundry list of things [to work on]."
With Wisconsin just five days away in Cancun, Mexico, SLU doesn't have a whole lot of time to figure out a solution. That said, the energy in the second halves has to provide some optimism for things to come.
"Just keep fighting and bringing intensity and eventually shots will fall for us," Jett said. "We know how good we are as a team. The first half, I don't know. We just shouldn't do it [again].
Luckily for the home squad, the shots did fall. SLU shot 53 percent in the final 20 minutes.
The second half was encouraging to see for Billiken fans. Down three points at the break, SLU came out focused and poised to run its offense and attack the rim – specifically Jett.
"That's my strength," he said. "I'm just going to keep doing that and getting to the basket."
With other teams around the nation stumbling against lesser opponents, SLU can certainly hang its hat on the fact that despite lackluster first halves, the second frames have seen a total turnaround.
That's the beauty of a long season, though. Crews is well-aware in fact, often commenting to the media about the length of the year and how much of a grind it is. Evans believes that the "process" that Crews talks about is just at its infancy.
"I don't think we've even scratched the surface," Evans said. "We're so up and down. Right now, we'll take a play off here and there and down the stretch last year that wasn't happening. On offense and defense, we can improve in so many areas it's kind of scary."
Despite losing stars Kwamain Mitchell and Cody Ellis along with role player Cory Remekun to graduation, the Billikens have found players to fill those voids. Most notably freshman Reggie Agbeko has been inserted and provided a spark.
"He's a competitor, man," he said. "He's an open book and just trying to take in everything on offense and defense."
In just nine minutes of play, he grabbed four rebounds and scored a bucket, and figures to be a complementary big man while John Manning rehabs an ankle injury.
With contributions from almost everyone on the roster, the Billikens found a way to run away with the game on this night, but moving forward, they need to abide by the old adage that there's 40 minutes of basketball.
Look on the bright side though, folks. After all, it's a process.
NEXT UP: Saturday vs. Bowling Green at Chaifetz Arena.