ST. LOUIS — The late Rick Majerus had a saying. Well, he had many sayings, but one that often times gets quoted around Saint Louis University is ‘starting is for high school’. A philosophy of sorts that focused zero on who started the game, but rather who finished and those 39 minutes 58 seconds in between.
The Billikens truly embodied that philosophy on Saturday night against the Charlotte 49ers.
The Saint Louis bench outscored the starters 47-29 en route to a Billikens 76-58 victory in front of a sold out crowd at Chaifetz Arena .
Just how good was the bench on this particular night?
Well, it was the first time in an NCAA game this season that a team’s bench outscored the starters by at least 12 points in a winning effort.
As arbitrary of a stat as that might be, it still speaks volumes on the importance of a strong supporting cast.
“Our bench has been good all year,” interim SLU head coach Jim Crews said following the game. “I think that’s an advantage. We’ve got 9-10 guys, different guys each particular night and I think that has been a strength of ours.”
Four Billikens finished the night in double figures, three of which were members of the bench mob. Cody Ellis led all scorers with 18, Jordair Jett finished with 16 and Jake Barnett netted a career-high four 3-pointers en route to a career high 13 points. Dwayne Evans was the lone starter in double figures with 11 while also leading the team with seven rebounds.
The win gave the Billikens (19-5, 8-2) their seventh-straight victory and also allowed them to keep pace with VCU in the Atlantic 10 standings.
Charlotte (18-7, 6-5) lost for the fifth time in eight tries after a hot start in conference play. Pierra Henry and Willie Clayton led the 49ers with 15 and 14 points respectively while leading scorer Chris Braswell was limited to just four.
The game wasn’t pretty for either the Billikens or the 49ers as there were plenty of ill-advised shots, defensive miscues and genuine disregard for the game to go around. The referees seemed to be enjoying themselves though, blowing their whistles 49 times on fouls alone.
“Go to Miss America if you want a beauty contest,” Crews said. “This is college athletics.”
Saint Louis finished the night shooting 43.1% (22-51) from the field, including 11-27 from beyond the arc. The Billikens also forced Charlotte into 15 turnovers which led to 21 points.
One area SLU had trouble, aside from the free throw line (21-31), was stopping Charlotte in the paint, where the 49ers outscored the Billikens 34-18.
“They are a smash mouth team. We knew that,” Crews said. “They are well-schooled on the offensive post. They’ve got men in there physically, men that are light on their feet so they can move you around. They try and knock it in all night long.”
It wasn’t just physical down low, as the game got chippy towards the end of the contest with both teams chirping back and forth.
“We had a couple stupid fouls and we weren’t rotating the way we should,” senior forward Cody Ellis said. “And they got a couple easy baskets and we started getting frustrated at each other, which is something that we haven’t really done all year. But we regrouped and finished the game.”
Next up for Saint Louis is a date with conference leader VCU, a game that could very well decide the champion of the Atlantic 10.
“They are a really good team,” Ellis said. “They are unbelievable defensively, they press the whole game, they are all about traps and we have to be prepared.”
SLU and VCU are considered two of the top defensive teams in the conference so one thing will be for certain: it won’t be a beauty contest.