ST. LOUIS (AP) — Jim Crews did his best to downplay No. 18 Saint Louis’ 10th straight victory in its first game as a Top 25 team this season.
“I hate to be bland and boring, but we don’t talk about it,” the Billikens’ interim coach said after a dominant second half by the Atlantic 10 leaders in a 70-53 victory over Saint Joseph’s on Wednesday night. “It’s so irrelevant to us right now. When you’re in this kind of tunnel, we don’t deal with it too much – or at all.”
Remembering a so-so first half that leading scorer Dwayne Evans referred to as “neutral” kept players from rejoicing too much about outscoring Saint Joseph’s by 15 points the rest of the way and holding the Hawks to season-worst 32.6 percent shooting.
Evans, who had 21 points, 12 rebounds and three blocks in one of his most complete efforts of the season, said pausing to admire the accomplishments thus far was “the biggest sin to Coach Crews.”
“You can’t listen to the noise, positive or negative,” Evans said.
Rob Loe had 11 points and six rebounds and Mike McCall Jr. contributed 10 points, five assists and four rebounds for the balanced Billikens (22-5, 11-2).
“Dwayne was outstanding,” said Crews, who has been in charge all season in place of the late Rick Majerus. “We had a lot of guys who were outstanding, but Dwayne was outstanding.”
Saint Louis cracked the Top 25 for the first time since November 2011 after beating a pair of ranked opponents on the road. The Billikens have won by double digits eight times during their winning streak and had a 41-29 rebounding advantage against Saint Joseph’s, including 15 on the offensive end.
“Their defense was what we thought it would be,” Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said. “But we had no fast-break points. We’ve got to get our pace up.”
Ronald Roberts had a season-best 25 points with three dunks for Saint Joseph’s (15-11, 6-7), which has lost four of six.
Carl Jones, the Hawks’ leading scorer with a 14.7-point average, missed his first seven shots, including two airballs, and finally got on the board midway through the second half. He finished with three points.
“We were keeping up with them. We were only down by two points,” Roberts said. “Then in the second half, they locked us down defensively.”
Langston Galloway, Saint Joseph’s second-leading scorer with a 13.8-point average, added 11 points on 2-of-11 shooting. The Hawks were just 3 for 17 from 3-point range and have lost seven straight in the series by an average of 10 points.
“Our two highest scorers had 20 shots and were 3 for 20,” Martelli said. “I’m not knocking them, but you’ve got to play better.”
Saint Louis outscored Saint Joseph’s 21-5 over the first 9 1/2 minutes of the second half to go up 50-32. The Billikens locked down on defense, holding the Hawks to a 2-for-10 start.
“We’re on a real good streak right now,” reserve forward Cory Remeken said. “Hopefully, we can keep it going.”
Evans leads Saint Louis with averages of 12 points and 6.8 rebounds, and he’s averaging 16.7 points during the first nine games of the streak. McCall is averaging 14 points over the last three games.
Saint Louis hit its first three 3-pointers and led by 10 after four straight points by Evans made it 27-17 with 4:03 to go, but the Billikens finished the half 1 for 6.
Saint Joseph’s shot just 33 percent in the half but was 11 for 13 at the free throw line and outscored Saint Louis 5-0 in the final minute to narrow the gap to two points. Roberts had 12 points with a pair of dunks in the first half, topping his average by a point four days after he was held to eight points in 16 minutes against George Washington.
The Billikens’ depth was tested in the first half with Kwamain Mitchell, Jordair Jett and Cody Ellis each getting called for two fouls. Jett finished with seven points and four fouls in just 12 minutes but Remeken, who had been scoreless the previous three games, picked up the slack with seven points in the first half.