Saint Louis may have lost a game Feb. 25, but the Billikens didn’t lose any ground in their chase for at least a share of their first Atlantic 10 Conference title.
After the 64-62 setback at Rhode Island dropped the Billikens to 22-6 overall and 10-4 in the conference, they got help when league-leading Temple lost to Saint Joseph’s later in the day.
That made the Owls 11-3 in the conference.
Both teams have two games remaining, with the Billikens getting Xavier at home and finishing at Duquesne. Temple finishes at home against Massachusetts and at Fordham.
Looking further down at the standings, the Billikens also lost an opportunity to put a little cushion between themselves and teams chasing them for the second spot.
In fact, with Xavier and St. Bonaventure at 9-5 in the league, St. Joseph’s at 9-6, and Massachusetts and Dayton at 8-6, the Billikens haven’t even clinched a first-round tournament bye at this point.
The top four finishers get to skip first-round games, which are played at campus sites, instead advancing directly to the tourney’s quarterfinals.
The possibilities are so infinite that the league office declined to cite scenarios for potential pairings.
—Senior F Brian Conklin had averaged just 7.0 points over a four-game span after scoring 10 points in Saint Louis’ 64-62 loss at Rhode Island, but he still led the Billikens in scoring.
Through 28 games, he was averaging 13.7 points a game to junior G Kwamain Mitchell’s 12.0 average.
Conklin has been dealing with an ankle problem in recent games and has missed practice time.
“I think he’s playing on a lot of guts,” coach Rick Majerus said. “I think that’s part of it. The other part of it is that the league is extraordinarily well-coached and teams devise defenses for what Conklin does.”
—Sophomore F Dwayne Evans had 14 points 12 rebounds against Rhode Island for his second double-double in four games. He had 16 points and 13 boards in the win at La Salle on Feb. 11. It was his sixth double-double of the season.
Evans was averaging 8.2 rebounds game in conference contests, which ranked eighth in the league through Feb. 26.
—The 36.1 percent shooting at Rhode Island marked the second time in four games that the Billikens had gone 22-for-61 from the field. They had the same shooting totals in a win over La Salle.
BY THE NUMBERS:59.9— Despite giving up 64 points to Rhode Island, Saint Louis still led the A-10 in field-goal defense heading into the final week of the regular season. The Billikens were yielding an average of 59.9 points in conference games, nearly five points better than the average of second-place St. Bonaventure through Feb. 26.
QUOTE TO NOTE: “I wasn’t concerned about that as much as I was the nine points they scored on transition defense against us and the eight points they got on offensive rebounds. Those were the things coming out of the game that concerned me most and we have to address.” —Coach Rick Majerus, when asked if his team’s problems shooting against Rhode Island’s zone defense represented a concern going forward.
THIS WEEK’S GAMES
—vs. Xavier, Feb. 28
KEY MATCHUPS: Saint Louis overcame a 27- point effort from G Mark Lyons and 22 points from G Tu Holloway to win 73-68 when the teams met at Xavier on Jan. 25. The Billikens forced the Musketeers into 17 turnovers.
—at Duquesne, March 3
KEY MATCHUPS: The Billikens romped 68-41 when the two teams played in Saint Louis on Jan. 21. G Eric Evans (12 points) was the only player in double figures for the Dukes, and G/F B.J. Monteiro was still hampered by a hand injury sustained in an off-campus incident on New Year’s Eve. He scored only six points.
FUTURES MARKET: Saint Louis is looking for its first piece of a league championship since 1971, when the Billikens won the Missouri Valley title.
—Junior G Kwamain Mitchell reached double figures for a seventh consecutive game with 12 points at Rhode Island on Feb. 25.
—Junior F Cody Ellis gave the Billikens a lift off the bench with 10 points against the Rams. It was the third consecutive game he reached double figures after he went scoreless at La Salle on Feb. 11.