Billikens beat by own ‘carelessness’ in turnover-riddled game

Milik Yarbrough led SLU with a career-best 19 points on Saturday afternoon.

Bill Barrett

ST. LOUIS — Perhaps the most concerning part of Saint Louis’ 65-53 loss to Rhode Island on Saturday was this: The Billikens actually played pretty darn well for the most part.

Seriously. For a team that often struggles to score and rebound, the Billikens turned in one of their best shooting performances on two-point attempts (56.25 percent) and were out-rebounded by only one against the top rebounding team in the Atlantic 10 Conference. SLU started strong, was tied at the half and trailed by only two points with less than six minutes to go in the game.

Yet despite all it did right, SLU still ended up a double-digit loser in its conference opener. Given the ups and downs that inevitably come with being a young team, to play well and still lose decidedly at home doesn’t bode well for their chances of success in conference play.

At least SLU knows where it did not play up to par against Rhode Island. That was obvious to the 8,677 fans who filed into Chaifetz Arena on a rainy afternoon. The Billikens did not protect the ball. They committed a season-high 21 turnovers and the Rams made them pay for most of them. Rhode Island scored nearly half its points — 30 — off SLU turnovers.

"If you turn the ball over 21 times, that’s 21 possessions you can’t score," SLU coach Jim Crews said. "It’s impossible to score when you turn the ball over. If you take a bad shot, that’s not good but it might go in once. We’re not encouraging bad shots but if you turn it over, that’s zero interest on your money. We have to get better at that."

Added freshman forward Milik Yarbrough, who led SLU with a career-best 19 points: "We made it very hard for them to score and we played a well-rounded game, but the turnovers they capitalized on."

Crews gave Rhode Island credit for the turnover total but admitted that some of SLU’s mistakes were unforced. Both Yarbrough and teammate Ash Yacoubou, who added 11 points for his fifth straight game in double figures, said the turnovers were more a result of the Billikens’ "carelessness" than the pressure applied by Rhode Island, which employed a press much of the game. Rams coach Bob Hurley, however, said applying defensive pressure out front was a key part of his team’s plan.

"We felt like we could wear them down late with our pressure," Hurley said. "We were willing to give up the lane a little bit to speed them up."

It worked. SLU had committed only eight, 12 and eight turnovers in its previous three games but had 12 by the end of the first half against Rhode Island. Sophomore forward Reggie Agbeko was the biggest culprit, with five turnovers in nine minutes to go with one point and one rebound. Yacoubou, who twice had the ball knocked away from behind when he was dribbling upcourt, tied his season high with four turnovers.

"Coaches kept saying for us to be focused on rebounding and playing good defense. If we took care of that, we figured we’d win," Yacoubou said. "But our turnovers was the cause of our loss."

That was as obvious as losing by 12 points was concerning when so many other things went better than usual.

You can follow Stan McNeal on Twitter at @StanMcNeal or email him at stanmcneal@gmail.com.