ST. LOUIS — This wasn’t the Saint Louis University team we’ve been accustomed to seeing the past few years. Not even close. It’s not the one the Billikens expect to be either.
Usually reliant on their defense to shut teams down and help create extra possessions, the Billikens uncharacteristically struggled to do much of anything on the defensive end Wednesday night in an eye-opening 74-62 loss to Santa Clara.
It was their worst loss in the five-year history of Chaifetz Arena. It was probably one of their worst defensive performances in the same span.
“We weren’t very good defensively,” said SLU interim coach Jim Crews. “The only way you can play defense to start with is to get in the stance and we had a hard time right from the first play of the game getting in the stance. Bend your knees, get down in the stance, get your arms out and play some defense, but we were upright. We were very upright tonight.”
Santa Clara shot 51.8 percent from the field including a 7-for-11 mark from behind the three-point line. Leading scorer Kevin Foster erupted for 30 points on 10-of-18 shooting.
The Billikens trailed by as many as 20 points on numerous occasions in the second half and had it not been for a 23-8 disparity at the free throw line, the final score could have been even more lopsided. Santa Clara hit 58.1 percent of their shots in the first half to open up a 44-31 lead at the break. They coasted from there.
“The bottom line is we didn’t get it done,” said senior Dwayne Evans, who made just one field goal and had nine points. “One of their guys had 30, that’s just unacceptable. It’s not the defense that gave us the good season we had last year and not what we’re trying to pride ourselves on this year. Hopefully we take this to heart. We just can’t let this happen again.
“Defense sets up our offense. Without it we’re out of funk on both ends of the floor and we get a result like we saw tonight.”
The Billikens’ staple the previous five seasons under coach Rick Marjerus was always their defense. They would routinely hold teams under 50 points and win games by taking opposing teams out of their confort zone on offense.
It looked nothing like that Wednesday night under Crews, who was named the interim coach when Majerus had to step away for the season due to a serious health condition.
Santa Clara got the shot they were looking for whenever and wherever they wanted. They hit shots from the outside. They drove and dished for easy layups. It was a clinic on how to execute offense by Santa Clara and a clinic of what not to do on defense from Saint Louis.
“They had their way with us,” Crews admitted.
The Billikens allowed just six teams to score 70-plus points on them last season including just once at home. Santa Clara reached 70 points with 6:39 still left in the game.
“We pride ourselves in our defense each and every year, even with coach Majerus gone, we still pride ourselves in our defense,” said senior forward Cody Ellis. “We’re not the most athletic team, we’re not the most talented team, but we’re going to be good because we can shut people down. Tonight was just a complete falloff from where we’ve been. Completely.
“It’s a reality check, really. Tonight was a reality check. The same thing happened to us last year to us at Loyola. Hopefully we learned from it and we can push forward.”
The Billikens jumped out to a 6-0 record last year and won the 76 Classic in Anaheim before suffering a 75-68 loss at Loyola Marymount for their first loss of the season. They rebounded to win their next six games, were ranked in the Top 25 and went on to earn a No. 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.
They’ve got the talent to be even better this year. But they’ve got to play better defense than they showed Wednesday night.
“When you get beat like that, the laundry list seems to be very long from my view point, but you can’t address the whole laundry list,” Crews said. “We won’t do any different than we always do. We’ll try to clean up what we need to clean up, keep working on fundamentals and staying sound.
“All we can do is just try to get a little bit better the next day. That’s all were trying to do, just keep getting a little better. We’re not going to go from A to Z like that. That’s not part of the process, that’s not how it works. We’re going to try to get better tomorrow. That’s all we’ll do. We have a snail’s process instead of the hair.”
With a game Monday in Kansas City vs. Texas A&M and a possible matchup with Kansas the following night, they better hope their defense improves rather quickly.