Crews leans on McBroom while he continues to feel out influx of freshmen
ST. LOUIS -- As the season goes along, the Saint Louis Billikens might not need Austin McBroom to hit a step-back 3-pointer in the closing seconds to win a game. They might not need him to score 24 points to win, either.
But they needed a career game out of their 5-foot-9 junior guard to beat the Southern Illinois Salukis 62-59 on Saturday night at a sold-out Chaifetz Arena. Hopefully, the hand injury he suffered near the end of the game isn't serious because they're likely to need him to carry them for a while as the rest of the Billikens gain experience and get used to playing alongside one another. SLU is greener this season than it was experienced last season when the starting lineup was composed of five seniors.
Barely seven minutes into SLU's season opener, coach Jim Crews already had used 12 players -- and he said it would have been 13 if senior forward Grandy Glaze had not sat because of a right shoulder injury. Six of those were freshmen, including one who started, Davell Roby.
"Individually, we're going to be up and down and all around and you don't know what you're getting sometimes," Crews said. "By playing a lot of guys, we can feel it, can see it and play with it a little bit."
If that sounds like Crews isn't sure what he's going to get out of his newcomers it's because, well, he's not. Playing is difficult enough for most freshmen. Producing on the court, well, that tends to take a while. For the game, SLU's freshmen combined for 13 points, 11 rebounds and six assists while playing a total of 81 minutes.
Six-foot-10 Austin Gillman out of Oakville High had the best night of the youngsters with six points and four rebounds. His first shot from the field was a 3-pointer that he nailed from beyond the top of the key in the second half. Gillman also earned kudos from his coach for protecting the basket in the closing minutes.
Crews' main expectations for the freshmen at this point is just to "try to keep things simple" and make any kind of play they can. In high school, that likely meant scoring a basket. At SLU, not necessarily.
"If you want to make a play, get a rebound, take a charge, make a simple pass," Crews said. "The simpler we are, the more productive we are."
There was a time midway through the second half when Crews had four freshmen in the game but down the stretch, he turned to what experience he has. Sophomore guard Mike Crawford, who averaged two points last season, tied the game with a corner 3 off an assist from Ash Yacoubou, a junior transfer from Villanova. Yacoubou also swished two free throws with 2.7 seconds left to put SLU up by the final margin.
Southern Illinois led 56-51 with just fewer than four minutes to go but were able to get off only two field-goal attempts -- and missed both -- as SLU's defense tightened. The Salukis' leading returner scorer, Anthony Beane, spent much of the game in foul trouble but when he was in, Southern Illinois did not have as much trouble scoring. He finished with 14 points in only 19 minutes.
The night did not get off to a rousing start for SLU as it announced less than two hours before tip-off that Glaze, the team's leading returning rebounder, was out after aggravating a right shoulder injury in practice. Then when the spotlight was turned on the new Atlantic 10 championship banner in a pregame unveiling, you could see that the "i" and "t" in University were transposed.
There was no word if that was a freshman mistake, not that it would matter. By the end of the night, McBroom's big night had overshadowed the shortcomings of inexperience.