Saint Louis built its reputation on defense early in the season, when the Billikens won 12 of 14 games in the first two months.
But the Billikens’ defense took a step backward Jan. 28 in the team’s 72-59 loss at Massachusetts.
Saint Louis not only lost by double digits for the first time, but it saw the Minutemen shoot 65.5 percent from the field in the first half on their way to 50 percent shooting for the game.
“Basically, it’s energy, effort and wanting to play,” coach Rick Majerus said when asked what the difference has been recently. “We were trumped in that category by UMass.”
The loss dropped the Billikens to 4-3 in the Atlantic 10 Conference and 16-5 overall heading into two home games to open February.
St. Bonaventure, one of three teams tied for the league lead, visits on Feb. 1, and then Saint Louis entertains a Dayton team that just dropped out of a tie for first.
NOTES, QUOTES Conklin plays through pain
—Senior F Brian Conklin, Saint Louis’ leading scorer, injured his ankle Jan. 27, and he did not start at Massachusetts the next day. He did play 34 minutes, however, and he led the Billikens with 17 points.
“He’s really warriored up,” coach Rick Majerus said. “He really wanted to play. It’s his senior year. He’s getting married in July, and the countdown is on for him. He’s a great kid and loves to play.
“I probably erred in letting him play. I love his heart so much. I think he played more with his heart, and I let him affect my heart. I didn’t make that decision with my head.”
There is a bit of a wait-and-see aspect to Conklin’s immediate availability. With his approach to the game, however, it would be surprising if he weren’t on the court when the Billikens take on St. Bonaventure.
“I’d much rather have a guy who I’ve got to try to rein in than someone I’ve got to try to motivate,” Majerus said.
—In a bit of a reversal of what might be expected, Saint Louis managed only 16 points off the 19 turnovers it forced against UMass, but the Minutemen cashed in 19 points off of the Billikens’ 15 turnovers.
—The 72 points the Billikens gave up to UMass marked just the fourth time Saint Louis has allowed an opponent to reach the 70-point mark this season. The Billikens had lost all four of those games (Loyola Marymount, Dayton, Temple and UMass).
BY THE NUMBERS:16-1 — The Billikens had won 16 of the 17 games in which they had held an opponent under 70 points, through Jan. 29. The lone exception was a 64-60 loss at New Mexico back on Dec. 31.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “If he’s able to go, he’ll go.” — Coach Rick Majerus, on the availability of F Brian Conklin, who played with a gimpy ankle at Massachusetts.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
—vs. St. Bonaventure, Feb. 1
KEY MATCHUPS: Bonnies F Andrew Nicholson doesn’t have the numbers he has had the last two seasons, but still is a double-double waiting to happen. Teams seemed to have had success getting him into foul trouble more this season than in the past.
—vs. Dayton, Feb. 4 KEY MATCHUPS: Despite their loss at home to Rhode Island, which went into the game on a six-game losing streak, the Flyers are still a capable club. G Kevin Dillard has been the steadying influence for the Flyers, and C Matt Kavanaugh has had some impressive performances inside.
FUTURES MARKET: Sophomore G Jordair Jett had a nice game (6-of-8 shooting, 13 points) on Jan. 28 against Massachusetts. He had 11 the previous game in a win at Xavier, and he could become a big factor if the long season’s grind begins to get to the Billikens.
—Junior F Cody Ellis got his first start of the season Jan. 28 as a replacement for the injured Brian Conklin, and he had nine points and five rebounds in 27 minutes at UMass.
—Sophomore Dwayne Evans struggled from the field, going only 2-of-12 and scoring just seven points against UMass. However, he did have eight rebounds, giving him 22 over a three-game stretch through Jan. 29.