The Saint Louis University basketball team went nearly three months without losing a game. Then it took just two days to lose another one.
SLU’s 67-56 loss at VCU on Saturday night, its first road defeat of the season, set the stage for what could be a dramatic final week of the regular season for the Atlantic 10 Conference.
The Billikens went into Thursday’s game against Duquesne needing just one more league victory — or a loss by Saint Joseph’s — to clinch the conference championship for the second straight season and earn the top seed for the league’s tournament in Brooklyn.
But after losing to Duquesne on Thursday and VCU on Saturday, SLU’s margin for error is tightening fast.
The Billikens are now 25-4 overall and 12-2 in A-10 play, with the Hawks right behind in the league standings with an 11-3 record.
Dayton (20-9, 8-6) comes to Chaifetz Arena on Wednesday still working toward a possible berth in the NCAA tournament. Then SLU goes to Massachusetts (22-6, 9-5) on Sunday.
Neither game figures to be easy.
But nothing is coming easy right now for the Billikens, who entered the week ranked eighth in the USA Today coaches’ poll and No. 10 in the Associated Press Top 25.
VCU (22-7, 10-4), which was seeking its first win against the Billikens in four tries, overwhelmed the visitors early and often with its trademarked pressure defense.
SLU turned the ball over 17 times, just one off its season high, and big man Rob Loe accounted for six of them. The Billikens’ blunders led to easy transition baskets for the Rams and also fueled the sellout crowd at the Siegel Center, which was hungry for the upset.
VCU, meanwhile, had eight assists and a season-low six turnovers. The Rams scored 23 points off turnovers. The Billikens scored eight.
POOR STRETCH IN FIRST HALF
Saint Louis was able to keep the game close for most of the first half.
The Billikens trailed by just four points with 8:23 remaining in the first period, but then VCU went on a 16-5 run to push its lead to 15.
SLU had a stretch of about 5 1/2 minutes where it did not score. During that stretch the Billikens turned the ball over only once but missed seven straight shots, including five layups.
VCU took a 38-28 lead into halftime and SLU was forced to play from behind the entire second half.
Jordair Jett delivered another strong performance with a game-high 18 points (on 8-of-14 shooting) and five rebounds, though he also had four turnovers.
SLU’s other four senior starters combined for 23 points on 8-of-25 shooting (32 percent) and just six assists against 12 turnovers. Those four seniors entered the game averaging 38.8 points per contest.
Dwayne Evans scored just four points on 2-of-11 shooting in 31 minutes. It was the second time in three games that Evans, still the Billikens’ leading scorer at 14.2 points per game, had scored only four points, tying his season low.