As the Billikens rolled to a 70-62 win over Massachusetts Thursday night, it was striking that SLU continued playing what has been the best defense in the A-10, especially when the Minutemen pulled ahead late and the Bills needed stops.
Coming into the game, the Bills had allowed just 55 points per game, but were down 54-50 with 9:28 left in this one. But coming out of a time out, Saint Louis U. allowed just eight points-and just two field goals-the rest of the way. For the game, SLU allowed UMass to match their season average of 40 percent from the field. But the Bills outrebounded the Minutemen 36-32, and were tenacious enough to allow 2-11 shooting down the stretch.
This has become a part of the Bills personality under Coach Jim Crews, who has SLU on a nine game winning streak; it’s longest since Charlie Spoonhour’s second team started the season on a 14-0 run. That team advanced to the NCAA tournament, and there’s reason to believe these Bills will head to the Dance for a second year in a row.
It’ll be tough. The A-10 is rugged this year. As they visit 10-4 Temple on Saturday, the Bills will face a team that was angered in their conference opener by losing at Xavier, 57-52. They will be tough. Fourteenth ranked Butler has a longer winning streak than SLU…having won ten in a row. Butler and Charlotte are 13-2, and VCU is 13-3. Saint Louis is fourth in the conference at 12-3.
But the Bills exhibit great balance. Big men Rob Loe, who had a career high 20 points against UMass, and Dwayne Evans, who leads the team in rebounding, provide a strong presence. The quickness of Kwamain Mitchell and Jordair Jett is enough to challenge any opponent, and the shooting of Jett, Mike McCall Jr., and Cody Ellis from 3-point range provide plenty of danger.
This team does a lot of things well, but they key among those is the tenacity and synchronization on defense that was a staple of late coach Rick Majerus. They have the ability to be a force in the conference, but they’ll have their hands full every single time they play. It’s a worthwhile trip to Chaifetz arena to check them out. Not that it means much now, but the Bills WERE picked by league coaches to finish second in the A-10, and have lived up to that billing so far. It’s good to see SLU remain relevant despite the death of Majerus, and Crews and his staff deserve a ton of credit for that.