No. 25 Billikens ready to return to action vs. UMass

NCAA

The No. 25 Saint Louis Billikens will finally begin Atlantic 10 play when they face the Massachusetts Minutemen on Wednesday in Amherst, Mass.

The Billikens (7-1) haven’t played since Dec. 23 due to various COVID-19 issues, but they have spent three weeks in Top 25 despite remaining idle.

“You try to prepare for it, but this is unchartered territory,” Saint Louis coach Travis Ford said during an interview with KTRS radio. “We’re taking it day by day, trying to figure it out. I will say our team is healthy at this point. Guys are feeling great. We’re anxious to get back on the court.”

The Minutemen (5-3, 4-1 A-10) are coming off a 65-46 victory at Fordham on Sunday. They have won three consecutive games and are tied with St. Bonaventure for the conference lead. UMass is off to its best start in league play since the 2013-14 season.

“I think it’s been our effort and our unselfishness,” UMass coach Matt McCall said, “our willingness to make the right play and share the basketball. It’s really been our effort and approach in practice leading up to games.”

The Minutemen return home to the Mullins Center to face the Billikens, one of the league’s preseason favorites.

UMass features a strong inside game with Tre Mitchell, who is averaging 20.5 points and 7.3 rebounds per game. He had 24 points and eight rebounds in the Fordham victory, marking his 31st consecutive game scoring in double figures.

Guards Carl Pierre (14.5 points per game), Noah Fernandes (11.5) and Javohn Garcia (11) offer scoring depth for the Minutemen.

Forward Ronnie DeGray III earned A-10 Rookie of the Week honors by averaging 14.5 points in two games last week. He scored a career-high 21 in an overtime win against Rhode Island.

“These guys love to work, they love to be in the gym,” McCall said. “Tre Mitchell is 30 minutes early to shootaround, going through a full individual (workout). I walk out on the floor and he’s a full lather, a full sweat. Thirty minutes before our shootaround.

“We have so many guys who are like that — super competitive, driven, motivated, want to get better and want to win.”

The Billikens earned their national standing with nonconference victories over LSU (85-81) and North Carolina State (80-69) at home. Their only loss came at Minnesota, 90-82.

Saint Louis is led by the offensive tandem of Javonte Perkins (17.8 points per game) and Jordan Goodwin (16.9). Perkins has made 54.8 percent of his 3-point shots.

“Javonte, I think, is one of the better scorers in America because he can shoot threes, he has an incredible mid-range game,” Ford said during an interview with KMOX radio. “Javonte understands we need him to score.

“Now he’s a little more of a marked man. He has to adjust to that.”

Perimeter shooter Gibson Jimerson offers scoring depth for the Billikens. He is averaging 11.3 points and converting 42.5 percent from beyond the arc. Post player Hasahn French is averaging 8.8 points and 7.3 rebounds per game.

–Field Level Media

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