Dwayne Evans wanted to honor Rick Majerus with a win less than 24 hours after the former coach’s death.
Evans scored 17 points and Jordair Jett added 14 points to lead Saint Louis to a 62-49 victory over Valparaiso on Sunday. Mike McCall Jr. added 10 points for the Billikens (4-3).
Majerus, 64, passed away Saturday at a Los Angeles hospital due to heart failure. The Milwaukee native compiled a 517-216 record over 25 years with Saint Louis, Ball State, Utah and Marquette.
”Coach dedicated his life to basketball,” Evans said. ”I can’t think of a better tribute than to get a win.”
Majerus guided the Billikens to their first NCAA tournament appearance in 12 years last season. The Billikens, who finished 26-8, upset Memphis before losing to Michigan State.
Majerus, who had a history of heart problems, took a leave of absence due to health issues in August. The school announced last month that he would not return.
The team found out about his passing after practice on Saturday.
”It was upsetting, tears were shed,” forward Cody Ellis said. ”But it brought us together as a team. It helped us regroup. … We definitely came today to play for him.”
Saint Louis guard Kwamain Mitchell said he learned more than just basketball from Majerus.
”He developed me into a man,” Mitchell said.
Billikens interim coach Jim Crews said that although Majerus had been in failing health, it was still hard to accept the news.
”He’s been a friends’ friend to me,” Crews said. ”He’s been a father figure to many of these young guys. It hurts. I love Rick.”
A moment of silence was observed before the game. Following the silence, fans in the near sellout crowd clapped and cheered for 50 seconds before the national anthem was played.
Saint Louis players wore black ribbons on the front of their jerseys. The student cheering section, of which Majerus was a big supporter, donned black shirts. Majerus used to make sure to acknowledge the Slunatics, as they are called, after each home game.
”He always let us know that he appreciated us,” said senior Marty Kovarik, vice president of the group. ”Before the season, he would take some of us to dinner and tell us just how important he thought we were to the team. It made us feel good; like we were a part of things.”
Majerus, who was extremely popular among fellow coaches, guided Utah to the NCAA championship game in 1998. He reached 15 wins 20 times and had 30-plus wins twice.
”He was brilliant,” said Indiana coach Tom Crean, who along, with Majerus, shared a coaching path that ran through Marquette. ”He was a guy I could call at any time and he would give me ideas.”
Crean said there was a time when Majerus was among the most popular sports figures in Wisconsin.
”He (could) have become mayor of Milwaukee or governor of Wisconsin,” Crean said. ”He was that well-loved.”
Saint Louis athletic director Chris May said Majerus helped lift the team to national prominence. He was hired on April 30, 2007, and guided the Billikens to a top-20 ranking last season for the first time since 1994-95.
”He put his heart and soul into the program,” May said. ”What I remember most was his enduring passion to see his players excel both on and off the court.”
There was also a moment of silence in honor of Majerus prior to the St. Louis Rams game against San Francisco on Sunday.
Saint Louis used a 10-0 run late in the first half to take the lead for good 25-19.
Ryan Broekhoff, Matt Kenney and Kevin Van Wijk had 10 points each for Valparaiso (5-2).